Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Global Pressure for Release of All FARC Hostages

On Monday ten Colombian uniformed personnel – six policeman and four soldiers – were freed by the country’s FARC rebels. The now ex-hostages arrived via a Brazilian army helicopter to the city of Villavicencio, and were accompanied by Red Cross personnel and several civilian liaisons who helped secure their release:

The freeing of the ten men, including some held for since 1998, could be a sign that Latin America’s oldest guerilla army might seek a peace process with the Colombian government. (A communiqué from the FARC last February claimed that they “banned the practice” of kidnapping). But for several international actors, it is necessary that the guerillas free several hundred civilian hostages.

Catherine Ashton, diplomatic chief for the E.U., urged the “terrorist group” to “immediately and unconditionally free the remaining hostages.” She also said that the FARC should lay down their arms and seek a “sustainable peace… respectful of human rights.

A statement from the French foreign affairs office called for “the freeing of all hostages, an end to the recruitment of child soldiers and renouncing the use of landmines.” This would ensure “the necessary conditions in order to obtain a lasting peace in our friend country,” according to the letter.

Organization of American States Secretary General José Miguel Insulza expressed his “joy” over the liberation of the ten men who were “unjustifiably separated from their loved ones for such a long time.” He added that the freeing of all civilian hostages would represent “an indispensable perquisite to obtain peace” in Colombia.

Amnesty International (AI) urged both of Colombia’s main rebel groups to “put a definitive end” to all human rights abuses committed by them. The FARC “must commit to ending all kidnapping and hostage-taking and release all civilians still under their control. Additionally, the FARC, as well as the ELN, must reveal the whereabouts of those who were either killed or who died in captivity,” according to Marcelo Pollack, Colombia researcher at AI.

The “FARC should give a clear accounting of the large number of civilian captives still held for ransom and their condition, and ultimately liberate them as well,” wrote International Crisis Group president Louise Arbour in an opinion article on CSMonitor.com. She also noted “the government should consider further engagement once FARC has verifiably fulfilled its promise to stop kidnapping for ransom”.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos visited the freed men at a military hospital in Bogotá earlier today. He later reiterated comments made yesterday urging the FARC to follow through with their pledge not to kidnap anymore.

As Jeremy McDermott of the BBC News observed, the timing of any possible negotiations will be critical:
President Juan Manuel Santos has stated that time is not yet right for talks, although the door is most certainly ajar…

Pressure for peace talks is certainly building, but the president will have his eye on the electoral cycle, and his potential re-election in 2014…

What he has to consider is that the longer he waits, the more likely it is that elements of the Farc will become little more than highly motivated and heavily armed drug cartels.

And then they will be unlikely to obey any call that (FARC commander) Timochenko may issue to lay down their arms.
Video Source – YouTube via AFP

Online Sources - Amnesty International, The Latin Americanist, El Tiempo, Christian Science Monitor, El Espectador, Bloomberg, El Colombiano, BBC News

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