Key events in Colombia’s dealings with FARC

July 3rd, 2008 - 3:15 pm ICT by IANS  

Bogota, July 3 (DPA) The Colombian military Wednesday rescued former presidential candidate Ingrid Bentancourt, three US contractors and 11 other former hostages held for years by the leftist insurgent group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Following are important stages in the government’s dealings with rhe leftist rebels fighting to gain political control for more than 40 years.

1966: Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) founded under leadership of Manuel Marulanda, alais “Sureshot,” from remnants of Marxist insurgents from 1950s uprising.

1984: Colombian government negotiates ceasefire with FARC and two lesser rebel groups. Right-wing paramilitary groups form. Negotiations with FARC begin to break down.

1998: The then president Andres Pastrana gives FARC a Switzerland-sized demilitarized zone in which to hold peace talks.

2002: Ongoing violence leads to breakdown of peace talks.

Betancourt kidnapped Feb 23 while trying to meet FARC leaders inside demilitarized zone, days after formal end of talks.

Alvaro Uribe elected president in May on hardline platform to confront rebels militarily.

2003: Three US military contractors, Thomas Howes, Keith Stansell and Marc Gonsalves, kidnapped by FARC in February, when their plane crashed in southern Colombia. They were under contract with the US Department of Defence and were assisting the Colombians in anti-drug efforts.

2006: Alvaro Uribe re-elected president in May.

2007: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez becomes involved in August in negotiations to free the hostages in a prisoner exchange, but his efforts stall over disagreements with Uribe. Chavez’s mediation formally ends in November, although he vows to persist in private efforts.

January 2008: FARC releases two hostages, including Betancourt’s former vice-presidential candidate Clara Rojas. Child born to Rojas, fathered by low-ranking rebel found to be in foster care, reunited with mother.

February 2008: FARC frees four more hostages, vows no more releases without comprehensive hostage swap.

March 2008: Colombian troops conduct crossborder raid on FARC base in Ecuador, killing FARC number two Raul Reyes, sparking diplomatic crisis between with leftist governments in neighbouring Ecuador, Venezuela.

Marulanda dies later in March of natural causes, replaced by former student leader Alfonso Cano.

Another member of FARC’s top leadership committee, Ivan Rios, slain by fellow rebel.

July 2, 2008: Betancourt, three US contractors, 11 other Colombian hostages freed by Colombian military in daring rescue.

FARC captors peacefully handed over prisoners to commandos posing as fellow rebels.

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