No unilateral release of Betancourt: Colombian rebels

April 4th, 2008 - 4:21 pm ICT by admin  

Bogota, April 4 (IANS) Colombia’s leftist insurgents have said they would free former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt only after the government releases the jailed guerrillas, EFE news agency reported Friday. The reaction from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) Thursday came after the Colombian President Alvaro Uribe said his government was ready for a prisoner swap but the first move must come from the rebels.

Betancourt, 46, who holds dual French-Colombian citizenship, was taken hostage by the FARC in 2002 and is one of the 39 high-profile captives the insurgents want to trade with hundreds of their jailed cadres.

“It is not acceptable that you ask us for more gestures of peace when we have already released six captives in the recent past and show our determination to find a solution to the conflict,” said a letter signed by top leaders Rodrigo Granda and Jesus Santrich Wednesday.

“The captives will be freed only after our members are released from prisons,” the statement said, which appeared on the website of the Bolivarian Press Agency.

The freed captives included Clara Rojas, the running mate of Ingrid Betancourt, who was abducted while campaigning in February 2002.

Currently, a humanitarian mission is in Colombia as part of French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s initiative to establish contact with Betancourt, who is reported to be seriously ill, and provide her medical assistance.

Last week, Uribe signed a decree allowing release of FARC prisoners. However, only one rebel named Granda was freed last year at the request of Sarkozy.

The FARC has an estimated 10,000 fighters and have been fighting the Colombian governments since mid-1960s. The US provides around $500 million a year in military aid to Bogota.

The group has been designated as a terrorist organisation by both the US and the European Union.

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