BOGOTA – Colombian authorities and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) have begun preparing for the release of five hostages by rebels of the armed rebel group FARC, amid uncertainty as to when it will take place.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said on Thursday that “the procedure is underway” for the speedy return of the captives.
The five hostages have been divided into two groups approximately 700 km (435 miles) apart between the departments of Choco, in the west, and Arauca in the east.
Gen. Ruben Dario Alzate, Cpl. Jorge Rodriguez and lawyer Gloria Urrego were kidnapped in a wooded area in Choco last Sunday, leading to the breakdown of peace talks being held in Havana for the past two years between the Government and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
The two other hostages, soldiers Cesar Rivera and Jonathan Diaz, are believed to be in Arauca, where they were captured last week.
Their release was negotiated by the government and the FARC Wednesday with the mediation of Cuba and Norway, on the exact same day that marked the completion of two years of talks aimed at ending the 50-year-old armed conflict in Colombia.
Mediators are now focusing on preparations as they await authorization to access the hostages.
“The only thing we know at the moment is that we have the go-ahead to act,” ICRC spokeswoman Patricia Rey told Efe.
The Red Cross will be responsible for receiving those freed in the areas marked for the handover.
“Obviously what is key are the security conditions, a guarantee that conditions exist so that we can enter the area, whichever that is,” said Rey.
The spokeswoman explained that the team shall consist of representatives from the guarantor countries, an ICRC delegate and a nurse or doctor to check the health of the hostages.
Up to 500 soldiers have been deployed in Choco Department on the orders of the ministry of defense.
However, FARC negotiators say that continuous military presence in the region, far from helping, could actually delay the release operation.
President Santos reiterated Thursday that peace talks will resume once the captives are released.
The parties will then continue talks on the recognition and reparation of the nearly seven million victims of the armed conflict.