Colombia’s largest rebel group FARC confirmed Sunday that it is still holding hostages and plans to exchange them for imprisoned guerrillas.
Sandra Ramirez, one of the FARC’s leading rebels involved in peace talks with the government, told the Cuban newspaper Juventud Rebelde that Colombia’s longest-standing rebel group still has “prisoners of war.” This contradicts the FARC’s September statement in which they claimed to no longer have any “prisoners of war.” The FARC have also renounced kidnapping, a stance Ramirez claims the rebels have not contradicted as the “policemen [and soldiers] captured in combat [are] different: they are prisoners of war because they are captured in combat.” Ramirez added that they have respected their captives “physical integrity, their beliefs and their human rights.”
“We maintain this project [prisoner swap] because that is the only way that we could get the comrades, who are rotting in prisons around the country, back,” said Ramirez, who went on to claim that there are currently “700 insurgent prisoners…[and] 8,000 political prisoners” in Colombian jails.
Ramirez said that the politicians FARC has kidnapped in the past, who reportedly “live in another Colombia,” were taken as bargaining chips.
“The idea was for them [the government] to give us back our fellow prisoners…and recognize that we are a political factor in the country: a factor that is not listened to, [to whom] all doors have been closed,” said Ramirez.
The guerrilla spokesperson also elaborated on FARC’s role in the drug trade.
“We charge a tax,” Ramirez said. “When it comes to buying coca, a tax is charged.”
The rebels agreeing to relinquish trafficking drugs is one of the five points in the current peace agenda. FARC and the Colombian government are in the midst of peace talks that, if successful, would bring an end to the longest active civil war on the continent.
“We have not come to the table for peace talks with the government because we are weakened, but because we seek an end of the conflict in our country,” said Ramirez. “We have always been willing [to negotiate with the government].”
The first round of “formal” peace talks ended on November 29 in Havana. Both sides have expressed optimism regarding the negotiations, which according to the government, “are on target.” In addition to their shared optimism, both parties have agreed on the necessity of citizen inclusion and on December 7, 8 and 9 Colombia’s National University, in collaboration with the United Nations, will host a series of public forums on agricultural reforms where the public can propose their own ideas directly to the government’s negotiators. Both the FARC and the government will also launch websites this week where citizens can submit their ideas electronically.
Talks are set to resume on December 5.