Colombian guerrilla who guarded Betancourt surrendersSeptember 15th, 2009 - 12:59 pm ICT by IANS
Bogota, Sep 15 (EFE) A FARC guerrilla who guarded 15 high-value hostages, including former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt who was rescued by the Colombian military last year, has surrendered, the army said.
The guerrilla, known as “Angelo”, turned himself in to soldiers in Miraflores, a hamlet in the southern province of Guaviare, and requested protection.
The rebel “knew he was closer to death and preferred to lay down his arms instead of continuing to put up with the abuse and humiliation to which he was being subjected”, the army said.
Officials are hopeful that he will provide valuable intelligence on the whereabouts of guerrilla leaders in the area and the condition of other hostages being held by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
The rebel belonged to the FARC’s 1st Front and at one time was a member of commander Gerardo Aguilar’s unit, which guarded the high-value hostages.
The army is currently hunting FARC commanders in Colombia’s southern jungles.
The FARC, Colombia’s oldest and largest leftist guerrilla group, was founded in 1964 and today operates across a large swathe of this Andean nation.
President Alvaro Uribe’s administration has made fighting the FARC, which has an estimated 8,000 to 17,000 fighters, a top priority and has obtained billions in US aid for counterinsurgency operations.
The FARC suffered a series of blows last year.
On July 2, 2008, the Colombian army rescued Betancourt, US military contractors Thomas Howes, Keith Stansell and Marc Gonsalves, and 11 other Colombian police officers and soldiers.
The FARC had been trying to trade the 15 captives, along with 25 other “exchangeables”, for hundreds of jailed guerrillas.
The rebels’ most valuable bargaining chip was Betancourt, a dual Colombian-French citizen FARC seized in February 2002 whose plight became a cause celebre in Europe.
The guerrilla group is believed to still be holding some 700 hostages.
FARC founder Manuel Marulanda, who was known as “Sureshot”, died March 26, 2008.
Three weeks earlier, Colombian forces staged a cross-border raid into Ecuador, killing FARC second-in-command Raul Reyes and setting off a regional diplomatic crisis.
Ivan Rios, a high-level FARC commander, was killed that same month by one of his own men, who cut off the guerrilla leader’s hand and presented it to army troops, along with identification documents, as proof that the rebel leader was dead.
A succession of governments has battled Colombia’s leftist insurgent groups since the mid-1960s.
In 1999, then president Andres Pastrana allowed the creation of a Switzerland-sized “neutral” zone in the jungles of southern Colombia for peace talks with FARC.
After several years of fitful and ultimately fruitless negotiations, Pastrana ordered the armed forces to retake the region in early 2002. But while the arrangement lasted, FARC enjoyed free reign within the zone.
FARC is on both the US and EU lists of terrorist groups. Drug trafficking, extortion and kidnapping-for-ransom are its main means of financing its operations.
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Tags: andean nation, bargaining chip, cause celebre, colombian army, colombian police, counterinsurgency operations, farc, farc colombia, french citizen, guaviare, guerrilla group, guerrilla leaders, ingrid betancourt, keith stansell, marc gonsalves, military contractors, president alvaro uribe, revolutionary armed forces of colombia, southern jungles, thomas howes