Sibylla Brodzinsky / The Guardian – 2007-06-28 23:25:32
BOGOTA (June 29, 2007) — Colombia’s protracted hostage crisis deepened yesterday when it emerged that 11 regional MPs abducted five years ago were killed during a military raid on the camp where they were being held.
The incident, the deadliest yet to involve hostages abducted by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, occurred when an “unidentified military group” attacked a camp last week, according to a rebel statement.
The news appalled a nation inured to the long-running stand-off between FARC and President Alvaro Uribe over 60 hostages abducted by the guerrillas, some of whom have been held for 10 years.
According to the rebel statement, the hostages died in the “crossfire” during a June 18 attack by “an unidentified military group” on the camp in an unspecified part of the country. The hostages were former provincial lawmakers abducted in Cali in 2002 by FARC. One of the deputies survived the raid, the statement said.
Relatives of the hostages gathered in Cali wailed when a national radio station said it had received confirmation of the deaths directly from FARC.
“To the families of the dead, we offer our deepest condolences. We will do all in our power to help them recover the remains as soon as possible,” the FARC statement said.
President Alvaro Uribe called an early morning emergency security meeting to analyse the situation but armed forces chief Gen. Freddy Padilla said in a statement that military intelligence did not have information about the exact whereabouts of the lawmakers and therefore could not have launched rescue operations.
Many families of Colombia’s kidnap victims reject any attempt at a military rescue of their loved ones for fear that they may be killed in the operation. A governor, a former minister and eight officers died in a botched rescue attempt in 2003.
Government officials speculated that the hostages may have been killed in a clash between rebels and outlaw rightwing paramilitary groups. More than 30,000 paramilitary fighters — arch-enemies of FARC- have demobilised in the past three years but rogue groups continue to operate in different parts of the country.
The FARC statement mentions “joint military and paramilitary operations” in the area where the hostages were held. Gaby Cristina Sanchez, wife of one of the hostages, blamed their deaths on the “arrogance of FARC and the government” for not being able to agree on a swap of rebel-held hostages for FARC prisoners.
FARC had been holding 59 high-profile political and military hostages to force the release of rebel prisoners and the demilitarisation of two counties in southern Colombia as a stage for talks about the swap.
The hostages include Ingrid Betancourt, a former presidential candidate who holds dual Colombia-French citizenship, three American defence contractors, as well as dozens of Colombian senators, governors and military officers.
Two of the hostages have escaped from their captors this year, including the current foreign minister and a police officer who spent nine years in rebel hands.
Mr Uribe has repeatedly refused to grant the demilitarised area but this month unilaterally ordered the release from jail of 150 low-ranking rebels and of Rodrigo Granda, the highest-ranking FARC prisoner, in the hope of pressuring the rebels to agree to the swap without the area.
A statement from the FARC secretariat on June 22 insisting on the demilitarisation was followed by a wave of bomb attacks in the Pacific port city of Buenaventura that killed three and inured 30.
Relatives of the lawmakers of Valle del Cauca province last received proof of life in April, just days after the fifth anniversary of the mass kidnap. In video messages for their families, the lawmakers also pleaded with Mr Uribe to grant the demilitarised zone demanded by the rebels.
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