Tue, Feb 28, 2012 - Page 1 News List

FARC rebels vow to end kidnappings

AFP, Bogota

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) pledged on Sunday to stop kidnapping for ransom and to release all 10 remaining “prisoners of war,” marking a historic shift in Latin America’s last major insurgency.

The concessions came three months after the rebels set off massive anti-FARC protests throughout the country by allegedly executing four long-time hostages during a government raid.

“We have often spoken about the kidnappings of men and women from the civilian population, that we, the FARC, have carried out for financial reasons to help support our struggle,” the statement said.

“We are announcing that, from this date, we are outlawing these practices in the framework of our revolutionary activity,” read the statement, released via its Web site. “We wish to announce that in addition to our already announced plans to free six prisoners of war, we will free the four others who remain under our power.”

“Prisoners of war” refers only to police and military personnel and the statement did not make clear if the guerrillas intended to release hundreds more civilian prisoners still thought to be in their custody.

The FARC statement also stopped short of agreeing to end hostilities with the government and failed to spell out if Colombian security forces would still be considered legitimate targets for hostage-taking.

Dated on Sunday and signed by the “Central Secretariat,” the statement said “serious obstacles” remained to the conclusion of a peace agreement with the government, but did not specify what those impediments were.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who served as defense minister between 2006 and 2009 and registered a number of victories against the FARC during that period, welcomed the pledge, but said it was not enough.

“We appreciate the announcement by the FARC that it is renouncing kidnapping as an important and necessary step in the right direction, but it is not sufficient,” he wrote on his Twitter account.

Santos added that his government was delighted for the hostages and their families and would do everything possible to ensure there was no “media circus” surrounding their release, a date for which was not given by FARC.

Santos has not ruled out negotiations with the FARC, but has always demanded that the guerrillas first carry out goodwill gestures.

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