Hostages' Families Fear Military Rescue

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The Associated Press
Thursday, March 8, 2007; 10:46 PM

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration appears increasingly focused on undertaking a risky military rescue of three Americans held hostage more than four years by drug-trafficking leftist rebels in Colombia.

Current and former U.S. officials say the U.S. government has failed to engage in routine negotiations or take other diplomatic steps of the kind used in similar hostage situations.

Additionally, the Justice Department refuses to consider exchanging the Americans for two Colombian guerrillas held by the United States.

The Bush administration denies neglecting to pursue all avenues to safely free the three men _ contract workers Marc Gonsalves, Tom Howes and Keith Stansell, who were captured in February 2003 by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

"I'm deeply concerned about their fate," President Bush said in an interview with RCN TV of Colombia on Wednesday, before he left on a five-nation trip to Latin America. Bush visits Bogota, Colombia's capital, on Sunday.

Addressing the FARC, Bush said: "Give up these hostages. You're making it clear to the world the kind of people you are when you take innocent life and hold them hostage. And it's very sad for the families here in America."

In Bogota, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe told The Associated Press on Thursday that while he is open to negotiating a deal to secure the hostages release, it "is also the duty of our government to seek a rescue."

The hostages' families have nearly lost hope of seeing their loved ones alive.

"My father has not been here to see me grow up," Lauren Stansell, the 18-year-old daughter of hostage Keith Stansell, said in an interview with The Associated Press. "The government is just letting them sit there."

The three Northrop Grumman Corp. contractors were on what U.S. officials describe as a drug surveillance mission over Caqueta, a rebel stronghold and cocaine-producing region in Colombia's southern jungle, when their plane crashed on Feb. 13, 2003.

Gonsalves, 34, Howes, 53, and Stansell, 42, were captured almost immediately. Officials say two other men on the mission, an American and a Colombian, were killed by the rebels. The three surviving hostages have been heard from only once.

The government believes they are still alive _ the only shred of comfort for Northrop Grumman and family members frustrated with what they describe as a lack of urgency in getting the hostages released.

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© 2007 The Associated Press

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