FARC report that new hostage release plans advancing
- Tuesday February 12, 11:12 AM
Colombia hostage release advancing: FARC
BOGOTA (Reuters) - A Colombian rebel plan to hand over
three ailing hostages to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and a
Colombian senator is advancing although their release cannot be
rushed, a top guerrilla leader said on Monday.
A rebel announcement a week ago that they would release
three former Colombian lawmakers has fueled hopes for a deal to
free other captives, including French-Colombian politician
Ingrid Betancourt and three American contract workers.
"The unilateral handover of the three prisoners to
President Hugo Chavez and Sen. Piedad Cordoba is advancing but
without any rush or any pause," FARC commander Raul Reyes told
Anncol news wire service, which often carries FARC statements.
The interview, dated February 11, came as families of the
three hostages awaited news of their release in Caracas.
Colombia's hostages are at the heart of a dispute between
U.S. ally President Alvaro Uribe and Chavez, a Washington foe
who brokered the release of two captives last month but who has
angered Bogota by demanding more recognition for the rebels.
Under Uribe's U.S.-backed security crackdown, the FARC --
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia -- has been pushed back
into remote rural areas and violence from Latin America's
oldest insurgency has ebbed sharply.
The United States and Europe Union label the FARC a
cocaine-smuggling terrorist group. Chavez had called for the
guerrillas to be taken off international terrorism lists.
The guerrillas are holding 44 key hostages they want to
exchange for jailed rebels. Some hostages have been held for
nearly a decade in secret rebel camps and many are sick with
jungle diseases and stress.
Earlier this month, the FARC said it planned to release
three sick hostages to Chavez and Cordoba, a left-wing ally of
the Venezuelan leader who has been engaged in attempts to
broker a deal with the guerrillas.
Among the high-profile captives are Betancourt, a former
presidential candidate snatched in 2002, and three U.S.
contract workers caught five years ago when their aircraft
crashed while on a counter-narcotics mission over the jungle.
(Reporting by Patrick Markey in Bogota, editing by Todd
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