( dpa )- Gruesome reports about the plight of hostages held by the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have shaken the South American country and the world in recent weeks.
Even tough, grown men were brought to tears as released hostage and former vice presidential candidate Clara Rojas met her son, Emmanuel, 3, for the first time since the child born in captivity was taken from her when he was eight months old. She was released by FARC on January 10 along with former legislator Consuelo Gonzalez.
There has long been strong emotion and anger about the suffering of some 3,000 hostages held by leftist rebels in the country. More than 700 of them - including former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and three US citizens - are thought to be held by FARC.
Not much has changed despite the recent releases, largely due to the irreconcilable positions of the conservative government led by President Alvaro Uribe and the rebels led by the man known as Manuel Marulanda .
Since the peace process with FARC begun by Uribe's predecessor Andres Pastrana (1998-2002) failed six years ago, both sides have struck the word compromise from their vocabulary.
They can afford it because the government receives billions of dollars in military assistance from the United States, and the rebels obtain millions from the illegal production of cocaine.
Rural Colombians, and particularly the hostages, stand to lose from this insistence on confrontation by Uribe and FARC.
The recent descriptions of the conditions in which the kidnapped are held draw a picture of hell in the jungle.
"I had to drag myself to the bathroom through the mud just with the help of my arms because I could not get up," police Lieutenant Colonel Luiz Mendieta wrote in a graphic letter to his family on a dirty piece of paper.
His legs had given up on him after months of forced marches and illnesses. Hostages speak of parasite infections, chronic illnesses, hunger, thirst and especially despair.
"(The worst is) the mental agony, the bad guy's evil and the good guy's indifference, as if we were worth nothing, as if we did not exist," Mendieta , who was kidnapped nine years ago, wrote in a letter that his sobbing daughter Jenny read last week.
The uncertainty weighs heavily on the hostages' families. They often go several years without proof of life of their wives, husbands, brothers or children, hanging onto hope only.
Gustavo Moncayo , the father of a soldier who has been kidnapped for years, made global headlines last year, by walking 900 kilometres from south-western Colombia to the capital, Bogota , to campaign for an exchange of hostages for imprisoned rebels.
Tens of thousands of people accompanied him on the last kilometres of his march, and he subsequently received invitations from around the world.
Since then, Moncayo has walked a further 1,200 kilometres to the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, but his son is still not free.
Yolanda Pulecio , the mother of FARC's highest-profile hostage, Ingrid Betancourt, even had to hear the commander of Colombia's military forces, General Freddy Padilla, say Sunday that she bears the brunt of the blame for her daughter remaining in captivity six years after being kidnapped.
"What has contributed most - without that justifying the atrocity of FARC - to Ingrid being traded as merchandise and becoming the 'crown jewel' and an obstacle to her liberation is the way her mother has behaved," Padilla said.
At the same time Padilla made his comments, Uribe was visiting France to meet with Betancourt's ex husband, Fabrice Delloye , and her son Lorenzo.
He asked them and later French President Nicolas Sarkozy to support the mediation efforts of the Catholic Church and of France, Spain and Switzerland in securing Bentancourt's release. She is a former presidential candidate who holds dual French and Colombian citizenship.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who led mediation efforts that culminated in the release of Rojas and Gonzalez, is no longer in the official picture.
Chavez has made himself unpopular with both sides: he asked the rebels to stop their kidnappings, and he told Uribe that the conflict cannot be solved militarily.