After spending more than a decade in jungle prisons, 10 military and police captives were freed by Colombia’s main rebel group Tuesday, the Colombian government said.
The captives waved or jumped with joy as they got off a helicopter painted with a Red Cross symbol, the Associated Press reports. Some came with pets, including a monkey and two small birds. A few wore a Colombian flag.
The leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC, liberated the military and police captives as a gesture at peace, saying the release marked the last of the non-civilian captives the group held.
In February, FARC promised to ends its policy of kidnapping ordinary Colombians for ransom to fund its terror efforts against the state, The Post’s Juan Forero reported.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos praised Tuesday’s release as “a step in the right direction,” but said it was insufficient to lead to a peace dialogue, according to the AP.
Santos said he needs better proof that FARC has abandoned ransom kidnapping.
The president’s tough rhetoric is in part because hundreds of civilians captured by the rebel group remain unaccounted for.
FARC’s most high-profile hostage was Ingrid Betancourt, a Colombian politician and anti-corruption activist kidnapped in 2002. Betancourt was held for 6 1 / 2 years before Colombian security forces rescued her in 2008. Fourteen other hostages were rescued with her.
In recent years, the government’s position has significantly strengthened against the rebel group. In February, Forero reported that many of FARC’s top commanders had been killed, and thousands of its members lost in combat and to desertions.
The Colombian government estimates that about 8,000 fighters remain, less than half what the group had a decade ago.
Peace talks between the weakened FARC and newly-progressive Colombian government seem more possible than ever before — though likely a long way off.
First, says Forero, FARC needs to show its seriousness in its desire for peace — not just by releasing captives, but also by halting its planting of land mines, recruiting of teenagers for war and other hostilities.