FARC hostage release raises hopes for Colombia peace talks
The release of all hostages is a condition for opening talks with the FARC to end decades of internal conflict in Colombia, but analysts say peace talks won't begin any time soon.
Colombia’s largest rebel group is due to begin releasing the last of its government hostages today, in what is being heralded as a first step toward possible peace talks, though analysts warn negotiations are unlikely to begin any time soon.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Colombia: Living with the FARC
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The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) said it would release ten members of Colombia’s security forces, some of whom have been held for as many as 14 years, in a two-stage process that will begin today and conclude on Wednesday.
Families of the hostages gathered in the city of Villavicencio in Meta province yesterday, and the government prepared for the departure of two Brazilian helicopters that will set out with Piedad Cordoba, a former Colombian senator who has acted as facilitator in recent hostage releases. They will retrieve the men at an undisclosed site in the jungles of Colombia today, and the government agreed to cease military operations in the general area of the releases.
The 10 men, whom the FARC calls “prisoners of war,” are the last remaining “swappable” hostages that the rebels once hoped to exchange for jailed FARC members. Nearly all were captured during FARC attacks on military bases and police stations in the late 1990s. The FARC announced the impending release in a February communiqué in which they also announced a ban on future kidnappings for ransom.
Voices of kidnapping
Every Saturday at midnight until 6 a.m. on Sunday, Caracol Radio airs a program called “Voices of Kidnapping” where relatives of hostages read out messages of hope and strength to their loved ones. The program has become such an institution that hostage keepers allow their captives to listen.
At 1 a.m. on Sunday, teenager Jonathan Salcedo sent his last message to his father Robinson Salcedo, who was kidnapped when Jonathan was four years old. “I have memories of my father and I have been waiting 14 years to hug him. Hopefully on Monday I will,” he said on the program.
The FARC has not announced which of the hostages will be released on Monday and which on Wednesday. As the moment for the release approaches speculation has grown that all 10 could be freed at the same time.
Furthermore, the FARC hasn’t indicated whether its new ban on kidnapping for extortion means it plans to release the civilian hostages it abducted for ransom. Figures on how many civilian hostages are currently held are unclear, partly because many cases are not reported. If abductions are reported, in many cases the release of a civilian hostage is not.
Consuelo Cordon’s two brothers and a brother-in-law were kidnapped in 2003 in three separate abductions. “Keep your spirits up,” she told them on the radio program Sunday. She congratulated the men who are to be released this week but asked Colombians not to forget about “all the civilian hostages.”