Santos Urges Colombia Jungle Rebels to Stop Taking Hostages

Colombian Military Captives Freed After 14 Years in Jungle
Former FARC hostages arrive in Villavicencio, Colombia on April 2, 2012, after being liberated. Photographer: Luis Acosta/AFP/Getty Images

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos urged the nation’s biggest guerrilla group to keep a pledge to stop kidnapping after rebels yesterday released military and police prisoners held for more than a decade.

Santos visited a police hospital in Bogota, where the 10 men arrived last night after being liberated yesterday in eastern Colombia by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. The men, some held for 14 years, were the last police and soldiers held by the group, according to the Red Cross.

Military bombardments under Santos and a crackdown on drug trafficking in the past decade have weakened the guerrillas, who lost leader Alfonso Cano in an attack in November. The FARC must do more to show it’s willing to end the conflict in Colombia after vowing to end kidnapping for ransom, Santos said.

“It’s a step we value,” Santos said. “It’s not enough.” The former hostages are in good health after enduring years of suffering imprisoned in chains, he said after his visit.

The men will find a “completely different” Colombia than existed in the late 1990s, when rebels strengthened by revenue from cocaine sales overran towns in a wave of violence that dissuaded international investment in the South America nation, said Juan Pablo Vieira, an analyst at Interbolsa SA, Colombia’s largest brokerage.

‘Kidnap and Kill’

“It was an everyday occurrence that the FARC would take over towns and kidnap and kill police and military as a pressure tactic,” Vieira said by phone from Medellin, Colombia.

The hostages had ceased to be a “negotiating chip” and may have become a burden for the FARC, he said.

On landing in a rescue helicopter yesterday in the eastern Colombian city of Villavicencio, the six policemen and four soldiers were met by medical personnel. Some wore knee-high black rubber boots often worn by guerrillas and new green military shirts provided en route by the International Committee of the Red Cross, television images showed.

The men are reuniting with family, in some cases discovering a parent has died during their captivity or infant children have grown into young adults, broadcaster Caracol reported.

‘Prisoners of War’

The FARC, Latin America’s oldest guerrilla group, had released images of the men, who it called “prisoners of war,” during their captivity. Photos on the Colombian Army’s website show them seated on a small hammock strung between two bamboo poles with locked chains strung around their necks against the backdrop of camouflage. The FARC still holds civilian hostages.

The men released include Luis Arturo Arcia and Luis Alfonso Beltran, both taken hostage in southern Colombia in March 1998, and Robinson Salcedo and Luis Alfredo Moreno, both captive since August 1998.

They were the last military and police hostages held by FARC, according to Maria Cristina Rivera, a spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The FARC, a Marxist group founded in the Colombian countryside in 1964, promised to stop kidnappings for ransom in February.

The guerrilla group kidnapped 2,678 people between 2002 and 2011, and more than 400 haven’t been returned, according to Fundacion Pais Libre, a Bogota-based group that tracks the conflict. Some victims are presumed dead, the foundation said.

“There are hundreds of families that don’t know, have no idea about the whereabouts of their loved ones,” Santos said last night in a televised address. “It’s not enough to stop kidnapping -- kidnapped civilians have to be freed.”

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