Colombia rebels appear to soften terms for prisoner swap

February 10th, 2009 - 2:32 pm ICT by IANS  

Bogota, Feb 10 (IANS) The leftist rebels of Colombia who have unilaterally freed six captives last week have now softened their terms to release other prominent hostages, EFE news agency reported Tuesday.

In their messages handed over to opposition Senator Piedad Cordoba during last week’s hostage releases, the leaders of Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) said they were not ready to release other 22 top captives without a “humanitarian exchange” that includes hundreds of jailed guerrillas.

But one item was conspicuously missing from the latest FARC communiques is the demand for a demilitarised zone to serve as a venue for negotiations on the swap.

Until now, the FARC rebels have insisted that a temporary neutral zone was essential to achieving a “humanitarian accord”, a notion flatly rejected by the country’s right-wing president, Alvaro Uribe.

Cordoba, who disseminated the FARC messages Monday, said one of the documents was signed by FARC chief Alfonso Cano, while the other came from the rebel group’s secretariat, or high command, which includes Cano.

The FARC, which the government says is holding hundreds of “ordinary” captives for ransom, says it is unwilling to give up its last 22 political prisoners for nothing.

The six hostages freed last week were among a group of “exchangeables” - once numbering 60 - that the rebels hoped to trade for hundreds of jailed comrades.

The insurgents announced in December that they would unilaterally free former legislator Sigifredo Lopez, erstwhile provincial Governor Alan Jara and four members of the security forces, having already released six captives in early 2008.

Brazil eventually offered to provide helicopters and logistical support for the Red Cross operation to retrieve the freed captives, and three police officers and a soldier were handed over on Feb 1 to a Red Cross delegation led by Cordoba.

Jara and Lopez, the last civilian exchangeables, were freed last Tuesday and Thursday, respectively.

Last July, Colombian soldiers wearing Red Cross insignia tricked a FARC unit into handing over the most prominent hostage, former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, along with three US military contractors and 11 Colombian police officers and soldiers.

Among the guerrillas the FARC wants to be released are two people being held in US prisons: Ricardo Palmera, better known as Simon Trinidad, and Anayibe Rojas Valderrama, alias Sonia.

“We must persist in the search for accords without forgetting Simon, Sonia and all our prisoners, even for one moment,” FARC leader Cano said in his message.

Some of the 22 soldiers and police still in FARC hands were captured more than a decade ago.

While the government has yet to respond to the latest FARC communiques, Uribe said Sunday that he was open to a humanitarian exchange, provided the freed rebels became “promoters of peace”.

– Indo-Asian News Service

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