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  HOME | Colombia (Click here for more)

Colombia Authorizes Senator to Take Part in Hostage Release

BOGOTA -- The government on Wednesday authorized opposition Sen. Piedad Cordoba to participate in the release of six hostages that the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, guerrilla group says it is prepared to hand over.

It also reiterated its confidence in the mission to receive the captives that is being headed by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Presidential peace commissioner Luis Carlos Restrepo said in a brief statement after meeting with Cordoba that he will offer "all the guarantees" for the handover and did not rule out - nor approve - the participation of a foreign "guarantor" in the mission.

"The national government reiterates its confidence in the ICRC and will continue to offer all the guarantees for the release of hostages announced by the FARC. Likewise it authorizes Sen. Piedad Cordoba to take part in this mission," he said.

For her part, Cordoba told reporters that the meeting with the peace commissioner was "positive" and that in the coming days she will again sit down with Restrepo to be informed of the government's final decision.

"The meeting was very positive, very important. We're making progress with regard to the matter of the releases," the senator said.

The second meeting between Cordoba and Restrepo will take place after the peace commissioner meets with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe to analyze the possible participation of an international guarantor in the handover mission.

Colombia's FARC rebels said they would only go through with their announcement to release the six hostages if, in addition to the Red Cross, a foreign guarantor, a representative of the movement Colombianos por la Paz (Colombians for Peace) and Cordoba were involved in the handover operation.

The Marxist guerillas issued their statement in a letter that was sent to Cordoba and posted Wednesday on a Web site used to convey the FARC's messages.

"We accept that the (International Committee of the Red Cross) take part in this humanitarian mission. It's a good guarantee but insufficient, if we consider the manipulations and abuses that this government has committed in (the ICRC's) name - and under the protection of its emblem - for deceitful ends," the letter said.

The FARC was referring to an operation last July 2 in which 15 of the FARC's hostages were rescued, including former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and three U.S. military contractors.

In that elaborate ruse, Colombian soldiers tricked the members of a guerrilla unit into thinking they were with the International Red Cross and that the hostages were to be moved to another location by order of the FARC's top commander.

The ICRC, meanwhile, issued a statement Wednesday saying that the FARC's letter shows that the humanitarian organization's emblem instills confidence in the guerrillas and characterized their message as "good news," despite the rebels' demand for more observers.

In their missive, the rebels said they will hand over six captives to leftist Sen. Cordoba, who must be accompanied by a representative of Colombianos por la Paz.

That non-governmental organization, whose leaders include Cordoba, was formed in October to bring about an "exchange of letters" with the FARC pursuant to a humanitarian swap of hostages for jailed rebels and an eventual peace process with the U.S.-backed Uribe government.

Since then, the NGO has sent two messages to the FARC, whose response to the second missive was the announcement that it would release six of the 28 people - two civilians and 26 security forces members - considered exchangeable for some 500 imprisoned guerrillas, including three who were extradited to the United States.

The FARC, moreover, are demanding the participation of "some democratic figure from a brother country or from the international community that also can serve as a guarantor."

"As soon as there is clarification about the aforementioned, we'll let you know the day and place that we're now working towards," the guerrilla group said.

In their four-point letter, the guerrillas asked Uribe if he is in agreement with the "prompt return" of the six hostages and will facilitate their handover "or if once again his visceral hatred will prevail over any humanitarian consideration."

Last month, the FARC said it would release the last two civilians it considered "exchangeable" hostages and four security forces members being held captive.

The FARC Secretariat posted a four-page statement, which was datelined Dec. 17 in the "Mountains of Colombia," on the Web on Dec. 21, the 11th anniversary of the kidnappings of the last of the hostages considered exchangeable for jailed guerrillas.

Alan Jara, a former governor who was kidnapped on July 15, 2001, and Sigifredo Lopez, a provincial legislator abducted on April 11, 2002, along with 11 other Valle del Cauca Assembly members, are the two civilians who are to be released.

Lopez is the only survivor among the group of legislators because the other 11 died on June 18, 2007, at the hands of the FARC, according to government versions, or during a shootout with an unidentified armed group, based on rebel reports.

The FARC, which has fought a decades-old revolution against a number of Colombian governments and is financed in large part by the illegal drug trade, has long sought to trade hostages for jailed guerrillas, but despite years of talks about talks, no exchange has materialized.

Meanwhile, the number of "exchangeables" has dwindled. In addition to the rescue of Betancourt - a dual Colombian-French citizen whose plight became an international cause celebre - and the 14 others in her group, some captives have been released unilaterally by the rebels and others have escaped with help from FARC deserters.

In addition to the "high-value" hostages it holds for political leverage, the FARC also keeps hundreds of others captive in hopes their relatives will pay a ransom for their release.


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