Two Colombian soldiers held by the FARC guerrilla group in the northeastern state of Arauca since early November have been released in a humanitarian operation facilitated by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
The Ministry of Defense confirmed through social media that the soldiers had been handed over to the ICRC: “Attention: soldiers Cesar Rivera and Jonathan Diaz are now in the custody of the ICRC. From kidnapping to liberty with our Colombian Army.”
The release was confirmed by the FARC guerrillas through their official Twitter account:
The International Committee of the Red Cross’ media coordinator Patricia Rey also confirmed the successful operation: “We just facilitated the liberation, in the rural zone of Arauca, of 2 soldiers there were in the custody of the FARC.”
According a communique published by the FARC immediately after the release of the soldiers, the humanitarian mission was composed of members from the peace process’ guarantor countries of Norway and Cuba, in addition to the ICRC.
The FARC announced its intent to release Rivera y Diaz in a press release shortly after the Colombian government suspended all military operations in the area over the weekend after more than two weeks of searching for the soldiers.
The ICRC said that a doctor from the humanitarian group was able to confirm that both soldiers were in “suitable condition” to be transferred from the rural region of Arauca to another location.
A communique released by the Ministry of Defense thanked the guarantor countries and the ICRC, while also expressing its solidarity with the families of the captured soldiers and condemning their detention by the FARC.
“Today we celebrate with [the families their release], condemning the kidnapping and considering it a criminal act and a violation of international humanitarian law,” the ministry wrote.
The two soldiers were captured during combat between the Colombian military and rebels in the northeastern state of Arauca on November 9th, where the release will also be taking place.
A second pending release, that of an army general who was captured with a subordinate and lawyer while traveling through FARC territory, might take longer, the FARC have said. In a tweet, the group said it would now focus on the release of the general and his two companions.
The detention of the general in western Colombia forced President Juan Manuel Santos to suspend ongoing peace talks with the rebels, demanding all five captives be handed over before the negotiations are resumed.
According to the guerrillas, the military has carried out bombings and ground offensives while imposing “restrictions of the right to free movement” that have made it difficult to proceed with the release of General Ruban Alzate.
They expressed hope the operations would cease in their latest bulletin announcing the release of the soldiers in Arauca.
“We hope that the operations directed by the Ministry of Defense and the military siege against civilians will be suspended immediately, so that the release of the aforementioned persons can proceed quickly, without any risks to either party,” the FARC’s bulletin read.
The army has denied the accusations regarding the operations, claiming the military is only maintaining public order in the area.
The FARC and the government have been engaged in peace talks since November 2012. Both sides continue carrying out attacks as no agreement has been found over a bilateral ceasefire for the duration of the talks.
According to a press release from the ICRC, the humanitarian group has successfully facilitated the relese of more than 1,500 individuals detained by armed groups since 1994.
- FARC-EP: Dos prisioneros de guerra han sido liberados (FARC)
- Two professional soldiers released in Arauca (FARC – English)
- Comunicado de prensa – Ministerio de Defensa Nacional (Ministry of Defense)
- Colombia: liberación de dos militares en poder de las FARC-EP (ICRC)