Thu, Feb 05, 2009 - Page 7 News List

FARC rebels release fifth hostage

AP , VILLAVICENCIO, COLOMBIA

FARC hostage Alan Jara, left, a former governor abducted in 2001, stands alongside his wife, Claudia Rujeles, right, upon his arrival at Villavicencio airport, 90km southeast of Bogota, Colombia, on Tuesday.

PHOTO: AFP

Leftist Colombian rebels freed their fifth hostage in three days on Tuesday, a former governor who said that Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and the guerrillas are equally to blame for the country’s still-festering conflict.

Alan Jara, 51, looked fit but thin, wearing a gray canvas hat and carrying a rucksack across which a battered and blackened pot was strapped.

The rebels handed Jara over to the International Red Cross in eastern jungles around noon. The Red Cross then flew him in a helicopter to the regional capital of Villavicencio, his hometown in the eastern lowlands.

“I’ve rested for seven years,” Jara told reporters at the airport. “Now it’s time to get to work.”

Jara stepped off the chopper into the embrace of his wife and son, 15-year-old Alan Felipe, who had lived half his life without his father. Jara spent a private 20 minutes with the family before speaking with the news media.

“He looks a little worn out to me,” Alan Felipe said.

Jara said he had thyroid trouble and an unspecified eye problem.

Like most newly freed hostages, Jara was quick to offer his opinion on why Colombia’s 45-year-old, class-based conflict persists.

“It would seem this country’s conflict suits President Uribe and it would seem the FARC [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia] — and this is the perversity — likes that Uribe is in power,” Jara said during a rambling two-hour news conference.

He said Uribe’s all-out war on FARC has failed to weaken the insurgents.

Jara was the fifth hostage released this week by FARC, which also has promised to free former provincial lawmaker Sigifredo Lopez, 45, by today.

He said only a negotiated solution can end the conflict.

“I feel with all my heart that Uribe didn’t do anything for our freedom,” he said.

Uribe met Jara and his family for more than an hour and 45 minutes later on Tuesday in Villavicencio.

Afterward, the president told about 100 people who had gathered outside Jara’s home that he respected what the former governor had to say.

“What we want is that he is happy with his countrymen,” he said.

Uribe insists this week’s hostage releases are no more than attention-grabbing antics staged by the rebels to deceive Colombians about their true intent. He and foreign governments have called on FARC to renounce kidnapping and free all its hostages.

Jara said he would tell Uribe that a prisoner swap should be negotiated urgently with the rebels. Leftist intellectuals, meanwhile, are hoping the rebel goodwill gesture will prod Uribe to open a dialogue that might end FARC’s decades-long fight.

But Uribe has resisted. His U.S.-backed military has dealt the peasant-based army a series of hobbling blows in recent months. And last year, he put a halt to international mediation efforts.

The rebels kidnapped Jara in July 2001 from a UN vehicle when he was visiting construction sites in Meta, the state he governed.

The former governor was widely liked by fellow hostages, they have said, keeping his mind agile by playing chess and giving English lessons.

FARC still holds at least 22 soldiers and police, some for more than a decade.

Lopez, seized in April 2002 in a daring rebel raid on a provincial assembly, is the last politician believed held by the rebels. Six others were freed early last year and former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt was rescued in a bloodless ruse in July along with three US military contractors.

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