FARC hostage release: Peace agreement ahead in Colombia?

10 police and military hostages of the FARC were released yesterday, some seeing their family for the first time in 14 years. Though a positive sign, this may not mean immediate peace in Colombia.

Fernando Vergara/AP
Former hostage army sergeant Luis Alfredo Moreno, second from right, waves a Colombian flag upon his arrival at the airport after being released by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in Villavicencio, Colombia, Monday. At left, is an unidentified former hostage.

For mothers and sons, husbands and wives, and young children and their fathers – including one teenager who has not seen his father since he was four years old – the release of 10 hostages by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) Monday has brought a sense of jubilation to Colombia.

"I shouted! I jumped up and down!" said one mother, Olivia Solarte, to the Associated Press, upon hearing that her son, one of six police officers and four soldiers – the last remaining “security” hostages held by the FARC for more than a decade – was set free Monday.

But the sense of joy felt by individual families might not translate into a national sigh of relief, for a nation that has suffered decades as the home base for the region's oldest and most dangerous guerrilla group.

As our correspondent Sibylla Brodzinsky in Bogota writes, the move, which was announced in February along with the promise by the FARC to end kidnappings of civilians for ransom, does not mean that prospects for peace are clear.

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.

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos seemed to capture that cautious optimism as the hostages were released, calling it "a step in the right direction, a very important step" but underlining that peace dialogues were not imminent. He said first the government needs proof that the FARC is serious about ending kidnappings as a source of revenue stream.

There are no reliable figures on how many civilian hostages remain. And this is not the first time the government and the FARC have set out on a road to peace. The last attempt collapsed in 2002, after the FARC hijacked a domestic passenger flight.

“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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