Colombia’s largest rebel group FARC on Saturday turned down a call from the government
to unilaterally free 24 hostages held for years in secret jungle camps,
saying the deal would have to be part of a prisoner swap.
Earlier this month, President Alvaro Uribe bowed to guerrilla
demands that leftist Senator Piedad Cordoba help mediate the release of
kidnap victims. Uribe authorized Cordoba, but said the guerrillas ought to release all 24
soldiers and police officers held by the rebels at the same
A letter was released from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of
Colombia, or FARC, on Saturday saying it is willing to free two of the
hostages but the rest would only be released as part of an exchange for
guerrillas held in government jails.
Cordoba had earlier announced that the FARC would be releasing five hostages within the coming month and would then proceed to release the others.
The FARC letter, addressed to the opposition senator and released to the media,
says the Marxist rebel group is willing to negotiate a swap “that will
permit the liberation of prisoners of war held by the state and by the
“Uribe wants to see the 24 released unilaterally. That is not likely
to change,” Leon Valencia, an expert on Colombia’s conflict and himself
a former guerrilla, told Reuters.
One of the two soldiers the FARC said it is willing to free over the
short term is Pablo Moncayo, held since 1997. His father has led a
campaign for the release of kidnap victims, draping himself in chains
and walking throughout Colombia.
Uribe, whose own father was killed in a botched FARC kidnapping more
than 20 years ago, may run for re-election in 2010 if his supporters
succeed in changing the constitution to allow him to campaign for an
unprecedented third term.
While the FARC, financed by drugs and extortion, is widely despised for its practice
of kidnapping, Uribe’s popularity remains at about 70 percent despite a
series of scandals linking some of his closest political allies to
violent right-wing paramilitaries.