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  HOME | Colombia (Click here for more)

Colombia Rebels Demand Lawmaker’s Presence for Hostage Release

BOGOTA – Colombia’s FARC rebels on Wednesday demanded the presence of opposition Sen. Piedad Cordoba for the release of an army corporal held prisoner since 1997, saying that the participation of the Red Cross and the Catholic Church is not enough to provide the necessary security guarantees.

That demand – sent in a letter to the Cordoba-led group Colombians for Peace – was made in response to Bogota’s decision to exclude the senator from the humanitarian mission.

To effect the hostage release, “we deem it essential” that Cordoba be present as “a guarantee of transparency in the operations,” a FARC communique released by Swedish-based news agency ANNCOL read.

The insurgents also requested the presence of professor Gustavo Moncayo, the father of Cpl. Pablo Emilio Moncayo, who has been held captive by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia for more than 11 years.

“We don’t object to the presence of the ICRC (Red Cross) and the Church; it’s just that we consider it insufficient,” the guerrillas said in the missive.

The FARC also called on Cordoba’s group to “analyze if military pacts signed in recent days by the Brazilian and Colombian governments may interfere in some way (with the hostage release) and, if so, whether it may be necessary to knock on other doors.”

Cordoba was in Brazil on Wednesday to discuss that nation’s possible facilitation of Moncayo’s release. She also has asked Brazil’s government to support the creation of a neutral zone in its territory for prisoner-exchange talks between the FARC and Colombian authorities.

Brazil provided logistical support for the FARC’s unilateral release of six hostages in February, when the senator acted as mediator.

The FARC said in the communique that it is committed to “working to bring to fruition, first of all, the release of army Cpl. Pablo Emilio Moncayo, and later to deliver the remains of Maj. Julian Guevara to his family.”

That police officer died while in captivity of a strange disease, according to the FARC.

The guerrillas reiterated their pledge to “show proof-of-life of the remaining 21 military and police prisoners of war” to pave the way for a swap of hostages for jailed rebels. The FARC continue to call for a so-called “humanitarian exchange” in their communiques, although recently they have stopped demanding a demilitarized zone to serve as a venue for negotiations on the swap.

The last step, according to the FARC, would be “to make progress in the goal of excluding the civilian population from the conflict.”

“Attaining each of these objectives requires not only our efforts, but also, of necessity, the government’s willingness to achieve them without stumbling blocks,” the communique added.

According to the FARC, “it would make no sense that now, when Cpl. Moncayo is about ready to return home, for them to start looking to put all sorts of obstacles in the path.”

The rebels, who have unconditionally freed a dozen captives since January 2008, lost their biggest bargaining chip last summer when Colombian troops pretending to be with the Red Cross duped a FARC unit into handing over 15 prisoners.

Among those rescued in last July’s operation were former presidential candidate and dual French-Colombian citizen Ingrid Betancourt – the most famous of the hostages – and three U.S. defense contractors.

Last year saw the deaths of FARC founder and leader Manuel “Sureshot” Marulanda, 78, who succumbed to a heart attack, and No. 2 Raul Reyes, killed in a Colombian raid on his clandestine camp in Ecuador.

The FARC, which has battled a succession of Colombian governments since the mid-1960s, once had nearly 20,000 combatants, but is now estimated to number around 9,000. EFE

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