Colombian rebels to release long-held captive

April 17th, 2009 - 1:01 am ICT by IANS  

Bogota, April 16 (EFE) Colombia’s leftist guerrilla rebels Thursday announced they would soon unilaterally release a soldier who has been in their captivity since December 1997.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) said that Corporal Pablo Emilio Moncayo would be turned over to the Colombians for Peace organisation which is led by opposition Senator Piedad Cordoba.

The decision to free Moncayo comes in response to “repeated requests” on the part of the organisation and by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his Ecuadorian counterpart Rafael Correa, the FARC said in a statement posted on the Internet.

“We announce our decision to unilaterally release Corporal Pablo Emilio Moncayo and personally hand him over to a commission headed by Senator Cordoba and Professor (Gustavo) Moncayo (the soldier’s father) once mechanisms are in place to guarantee the security of the operation,” the rebels said.

Moncayo was taken prisoner Dec 21, 1997, along with Corporal Jose Martinez in a guerrilla attack on an army communications centre in the southern province of Narino.

Ten soldiers died in the attack, four were wounded and another 18 were taken captive by the FARC, who later released 16 of them while keeping the two corporals in custody, taking them to a group of “exchangeables” the rebels hoped to swap for hundreds of jailed insurgents.

The rebels, who have unilaterally 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 US defence contractors.

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.

The guerrilla group is currently holding 22 military and police officers, whom they want to exchange for 500 imprisoned rebels.

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