FARC offers to surrender, release hostages: Colombian president (Lead)

May 25th, 2008 - 2:53 pm ICT by admin  

Bogota, May 25 (IANS) Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has said the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has offered to demobilize and free former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and others from their captivity following the death of its leader, EFE news agency reported Sunday. Uribe said Saturday his government received “calls” from some of the leaders of the country’s largest leftist insurgent group that they were ready to give themselves up and release hostages.

Earlier in the day, the defence ministry said it had information from reliable rebel sources that Manuel Marulanda “Sureshot”, the founder and top leader of the rebel group, had died following a heart attack.

Marulanda might have died following a severe heart attack March 26, Semana magazine director Alejandro Santos quoted Defence Minister Juan Manuel Santos as saying, EFE news agency reported Sunday.

The minister told the magazine that the information regarding the death of the leftist guerrilla leader has come from reliable sources within the group, Santos said.

Betancourt, who holds dual citizenship of France and Colombia, was kidnapped by FARC in 2002 while campaigning for the presidency, and has been in the rebels’ captivity ever since.

Apart from some 40 prominent hostages, FARC also holds a large number of police personnel and soldiers.

FARC, established in 1964, has been fighting government forces for control of the country in the past four decades.

In 2002, when Uribe was elected Colombia’s president, he took a hardline stance and launched fierce attacks against the rebel group.

With little popular support, the FARC rebels have been driven into remote jungles and mountains, but remain a potent force in some areas, bolstered by funds from drug smuggling.

In recent months, the rebel group has suffered several heavy blows. Its No.2 leader Raul Reyes was killed in a bombing raid on his camp in Ecuador in March.

His death was followed by the assassination days later of another commander of the rebel group, killed by one of his bodyguards.

In May, a woman rebel leader know as “Karina” surrendered to the government.

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