In a potentially major breakthrough, just after Colombia confirmed the death of FARC leader Manuel Marulanda, Uribe said “the government has received calls from the FARC in which some of the leaders announced their decision to leave the FARC and hand over Ingrid Betancourt if their freedom is guaranteed.”The government’s answer is ‘yes, they are guaranteed freedom'” if they handed over hostages, Uribe said.In a speech carried live on national television, Uribe said those leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) who free the captives could be turned over to authorities from “France, so that they enjoy that freedom there.”The president also touted the government’s offer to reward rebels up to a total of 100 million dollars when they turn themselves in alongside one or more hostages.Uribe spoke from the town of Florida, in an 800-square-mile (2,050-square-kilometer) zone in the southwest which the FARC has asked to be demilitarized in order to negotiate a swap of high-profile hostages for jailed guerrillas.The FARC have in their control Betancourt, a former Colombian presidential candidate who is both a Colombian and French national, three US nationals and dozens of Colombian police and military staff. They want to swap the hostages for some 500 imprisoned comrades including three in US jails.Earlier Saturday the army announced the death of FARC leader Manuel Marulanda, in a major development in its fight against Latin America’s oldest insurgency.”Manuel Marulanda or ‘Sure Shot,’ the main leader of the FARC, is dead,” an army spokesman said, adding that he “died March 26 at 6:30pm. The cause of death is yet to be determined.”His replacement as FARC leader will be Alfonso Cano, seen as the group’s ideological leader, the spokesman said.The elusive Marulanda, who was about 80 when he died, founded the FARC over four decades ago. He has been rumored to be dead at least 17 times.”If (the FARC) are going to say that the information we have is not true, they must prove it,” the statement said, boasting that “whether Marulanda died in an air raid or of natural causes, this would be the hardest blow that this terrorist group has taken, since ‘Sure Shot’ was the one who kept the criminal organization united.”
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