Betancourt urges FARC to be ‘good losers’

July 5th, 2008 - 12:24 pm ICT by IANS  

Paris, July 5 (IANS) Two days after she and 14 other hostages were rescued dramatically from the captivity of Colombia’s leftist guerrillas, former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt has urged the insurgents to be “good losers” and stand down, EFE reported Saturday. The rebels “have lost,” she said, “perhaps it’s the moment to make things right.”

Betancourt, who spent six years and a half as a hostage of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), thanked the commando team that rescued her Wednesday in an extremely risky and daring mission.

Betancourt, a dual Colombian-French citizen who spent her formative years in France, arrived here Friday accompanied by her mother, sister and her two children after her liberation.

“I believe the FARC must stop committing murders and behaving like terrorists,” Betancourt said at a press conference when asked if she had any message for the guerrillas.

Describing the FARC as “an organisation that causes suffering, that nourishes itself with dirty money,” she said: “We must end all this madness”.

“All Colombians,” Betancourt said, “want to extend our hands without rancour to all of those who form part of the FARC.”

“We are ready to make changes to benefit all Colombians, but we are not inclined to continue participating in the farce” that the FARC wishes to perpetuate, “pretending to be an organisation for the good of Colombia,” she said.

Betancourt appealed to the commando team to work with equal fervour for the liberation of the 25 remaining high-value FARC captives.

The 15 people freed in Wednesday’s Colombian military operation were among 40 “exchangeables” the FARC hoped to swap for hundreds of jailed rebels.

Betancourt acknowledged that in the short term, Wednesday’s rescue operation would make it “much more difficult” to start negotiations with the FARC on freeing the other 25 exchangeables, let alone the hundreds of people the rebels are said to be holding to ransom.

Besides Betancourt, the rescued group included three US military contractors captured by the FARC in 2003 when their plane went down in rebel-controlled territory.

Last month, Bolivia’s leftist President Hugo Chavez publicly asked the rebels to release all their captives “in exchange for nothing” and insisted that their method of armed struggle no longer applied to the obtaining political realities.

The FARC, which has battled a succession of Colombia governments since 1964 and once numbered nearly 20,000 fighters, is reeling under a series of setbacks.

Founder and leader Manuel “Sureshot” Marulanda died of natural causes late March. It lost the number two in the hierarchy Raul Reyes to a Colombian army raid in the Ecuadorian jungles and another senior leader was killed by a compatriot for a reward.

Ideology and strategic considerations aside, one factor militating against a quick demobilisation of the FARC could be the group’s past experience with initiatives of that kind.

In the mid-1980s, thousands of FARC guerrillas put down their guns and formed a political party, Union Patriotica. But 3,000 party members were subsequently slain by rightist vigilante gunmen, often with the collusion of Colombian security forces.

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