Colombia’s FARC rebels said they would soon free six hostages from jungle camps in their first hostage gesture since high-profile captive Ingrid Betancourt and three Americans were rescued by the military in July.
The FARC said two captive politicians and four members of the armed forces held for years would be handed to a group led by Piedad Cordoba, a left-wing Colombian senator who helped broker past deals with Latin America’s oldest insurgency.
The negotiated release would be the FARC’s first since February when four lawmakers were freed in a deal with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. The rebels have since been battered by the deaths of commanders, military setbacks and desertions.
“We announce the upcoming unilateral release of six prisoners in two stages,” the FARC said in a communique dated Dec. 17 but published on Sunday. “The conditions of how, when and where will be announced at the proper moment.”
Cordoba, head of a commission of academics and politicians who maintain written communication with the FARC, confirmed the planned release, but she did not give details.
The FARC said three police officers and one soldier would be freed first followed by a former governor, Alan Jara, and local lawmaker Sigifredo Lopez, who have both spent more than six years held in secret rebel camps deep in the jungle.
The FARC began in 1964 fighting for a socialist state, but is now engaged in the country’s huge cocaine trade and has been driven back into rural areas by Colombian President Alvaro Uribe’s US-backed military campaign against the guerrillas.
The FARC — Spanish initials for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia — says it wants the government to demilitarize a safe haven in a southern part of the country for talks on exchanging at least 28 hostages for jailed rebels.
Uribe, whose father was killed by rebels in a botched kidnapping two decades ago, says he is open to talks but says pulling back security forces would allow the rebels to regroup. He has offered negotiations under international observation.
The news of the possible release came after just months after kidnapped lawmaker Oscar Lizcano escaped with one of his captors in another blow to the FARC. Three top rebel commanders also died this year, including FARC founder Manuel Marulanda.
In July, a military operation freed 15 high-profile hostages, including three US contractors and and former presidential candidate Betancourt.