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.
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Ms. Cordoba, the former senator acting as facilitator for this week’s hostage release, said the releases are a unilateral "gesture of peace" by the FARC that should lead to peace negotiations with the government.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Colombia: Living with the FARC
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IN PICTURES: Living with the FARC
But Michael Shifter, president of the Washington-based think tank Inter-American Dialogue, said there was a “measure of wishful thinking” among those who see this as a first step toward peace talks, adding that there is still a “long way to go” before the FARC and the government are ready to sit down at opposite sides of a negotiations table. The last attempt at negotiating an end to the internal conflict collapsed in 2002 when the FARC highjacked a domestic flight and kidnapped a senator among the passengers.
At the time, the FARC was at its pinnacle of strength, with anywhere between 18,000 and 20,000 fighters. The rebels used ransom payments to fund their fight against the state, and used political hostages to put pressure on the government. Among the political hostages were French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt and three American military contractors who were rescued in 2008 in a military intelligence operation.
Today, after a sustained military counterinsurgency campaign backed by more than $7 billion in mostly military aid from the United States, the FARC's ranks have been halved to an estimated 9,200 fighters, according to intelligence sources.
In the last two weeks of March, the military attacked two FARC rebel camps in the eastern plains killing more than 60 rebels. In a second bomb attack, in Vistahermosa on March 26, six rebel commanders were killed in what Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon called a “substantial and permanent blow” to the FARC.
The recent operations are part of a new government strategy against the rebels that is targeting mid-level operational commanders rather than the top leadership. The FARC has lost six of its most senior leaders since 2008. The current leader Rodrigo Londoño, also known under the nom de guerre Timoleón Jiménez or Timochenko, took over the top post in November. While rebel attacks have increased under his command, he has simultaneously called on the government to begin peace talks.
“The FARC is trying to enhance [its] legitimacy but they are doing it from a weakened position,” says Mr. Shifter. “The government is being extremely careful in not giving in to the enormous temptation to pursue peace because of the skepticism in the ruling coalition.”
“It’s a dance we see a lot of in Colombia,” says Shifter.
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