A rebel announcement a week ago that they would release three former Colombian lawmakers has fueled hopes for a deal to free other captives, including French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt and three American contract workers. “The unilateral handover of the three prisoners to President Hugo Chavez and Sen. Piedad Cordoba is advancing but without any rush or any pause,” FARC commander Raul Reyes told Anncol news wire service, which often carries FARC statements. The interview, dated February 11, came as families of the three hostages awaited news of their release in Caracas. Colombia’s hostages are at the heart of a dispute between U.S. ally President Alvaro Uribe and Chavez, a Washington foe who brokered the release of two captives last month but who has angered Bogota by demanding more recognition for the rebels. Under Uribe’s U.S.-backed security crackdown, the FARC — Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia — has been pushed back into remote rural areas and violence from Latin America’s oldest insurgency has ebbed sharply. The United States and Europe Union label the FARC a cocaine-smuggling terrorist group. Chavez had called for the guerrillas to be taken off international terrorism lists. The guerrillas are holding 44 key hostages they want to exchange for jailed rebels. Some hostages have been held for nearly a decade in secret rebel camps and many are sick with jungle diseases and stress. Earlier this month, the FARC said it planned to release three sick hostages to Chavez and Cordoba, a left-wing ally of the Venezuelan leader who has been engaged in attempts to broker a deal with the guerrillas.Among the high-profile captives are Betancourt, a former presidential candidate snatched in 2002, and three U.S. contract workers caught five years ago when their aircraft crashed while on a counter-narcotics mission over the jungle. (Reuters)
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