FARC negotiators "confident" Washington will pardon top rebel

"Simón Trinidad" was extradited to the United States following his 2004 capture in Ecuador

Trinidad shouts to photographers following his 2004 capture.
Trinidad shouts to photographers following his 2004 capture.J. G. (AP)

Rebel insurgents holding talks with the Colombian government said Tuesday they are confident that the United States will pardon and release one of their leaders so he can join the negotiations taking place in Havana.

Juvenal Ovidio Ricardo Palmera Pineda, alias "Simón Trinidad," was extradited to the United States following his 2004 capture in Ecuador and is serving a 60-year-prison term for his role in kidnapping American citizens. Last week, members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) came up with an unusual request at the talks by announcing that they wanted Trinidad to join them.

"We don't want to lose any faith, or hope, that President Obama will send us a message of peace for Colombia with a favorable response to our request," Jesús Santrich, a FARC commander and a chief negotiator, said on Tuesday.

Ricardo Zúñiga, the National Security Council's lead man on Latin America policy, told the Bogota daily El Tiempo that there are no plans to pardon the 62-year-old Trinidad. "We are not part of the peace process, and all I can say is that he is in prison, and will remain there," Zúñiga said.

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons website, Trinidad is serving at a maximum security facility in Florence, Colorado and isn't due for release until 2056.

Trinidad was convicted for his role in the kidnapping of the three US contractors who were held for more than six years with former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt. They were all freed in a daring army rescue operation in 2008.

The talks between FARC and representatives of the government of Juan Manuel Santos have been held behind closed doors at the Palace of Conventions in Havana. They are being mediated by Cuba, Norway, Venezuela and Chile.

Meanwhile, Santrich, whose real name is Seuxis Paucias Hernández, said that the talks, which resumed on Tuesday following a short break, were continuing at an "excellent pace" with proposals for rural land reforms being discussed at this time. Thornier issues, such as the rebels' peacetime role, are being left for later.

The FARC has also repeated its request for the military to hand over the bodies of dead guerillas who were massacred by the Colombian government forces at a secret camp in Ecuador three years ago. In that ambush, the FARC's top commander, Raúl Reyes, was killed. The guerrillas want the bodies to be identified and be given a proper funeral.

Also on Tuesday the United Nations warned that a proposed constitutional reform in Colombia could lead to soldiers and police being let off the hook for alleged war crimes committed during the country's nearly 50-year-old conflict.

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