LATIN AMERICA

Colombia and FARC negotiate hostage release to unblock stalled peace talks

Army general and four others due for imminent liberation, say international guarantors

The guarantors from Cuba and Norway at a press conference.
The guarantors from Cuba and Norway at a press conference.REUTERS

The hostage crisis that brought the peace talks between Colombia and the FARC guerrilla to a standstill last Sunday could be drawing to an end.

Representatives from the governments of Cuba and Norway, who are acting as guarantors at the ongoing negotiations in Havana, announced on Wednesday that both sides have agreed to the terms that will lead to the liberation of Army General Rubén Darío Alzate and four other people currently in the rebels’ power.

General Alzate was wearing civilian clothes and traveling unarmed when he was abducted

The high-ranking official, a corporal and a lawyer were abducted in a jungle area in the department of Chocó, in the western part of the country, while they were inspecting an energy project. General Alzate was wearing civilian clothes and traveling unarmed.

The other four individuals slated for imminent release are Corporal Jorge Rodríguez and the lawyer Gloria Urrego, who were taken along with Alzate, as well as the soldiers César Rivera and Jonathan Díaz, who were kidnapped on November 9 during a confrontation with FARC members.

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The international representatives said that the hostages will be released “with the shortest possible delay” and thanked the “constructive attitude” displayed by both sides to find a solution to the crisis.

The Colombian executive said in a short press release that “once they are all set free” its delegation will return to Havana to resume negotiations that have been going on for two years.

Hours earlier, President Juan Manuel Santos had underscored that these negotiations had managed to progress “like never before” and he insisted that his government wants to “continue with the negotiations in order to end this war that has bled all Colombians dry.”

Local media reported that the International Red Cross Committee is working to take in the hostages as soon as they are freed, an initiative that has been confirmed by the guarantor nations.

Freeing them is the FARC’s best opportunity to prove their commitment to peace”

The Colombian government had offered around $45,000 for information regarding the whereabouts of the hostages.

A group of 40 victims who recently traveled to Havana to participate in the peace talks has asked President Santos to resume the negotiations, and told the guerrilla group to act consistently with the quest for peace and stop practices such as kidnappings, which erode public trust in the process.

“Freeing them is the FARC’s best opportunity to prove their commitment to peace,” said Ángela Giraldo, sister of a deputy who was kidnapped and killed by the Marxist group in 2007, in an interview with this newspaper.

According to the National Center for Historical Memory, 27,000 people have been abducted in Colombia in the last 40 years, most of them by guerrilla groups.

Meanwhile, the opposition Democratic Center, led by former president Álvaro Uribe, increased the tone of its criticism of the Havana talks and placed signs on their congressional desks reading “#Nomashumillacionanuestroshéroes” (or, No more humiliating our heroes), along with photographs of two soldiers.