Millions march against kidnappings in Colombia

Other News Materials 5 February 2008 07:21 (UTC +04:00)

( dpa ) - Several million people marched Monday across Colombia against kidnappings by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a Marxist guerrilla group.

Responding to an initiative that started last month on the internet social networking site Facebook, more than 1 million people gathered in Bogota alone. Local media estimated that similar numbers joined marches in Medellin and Cali, while organizers noted that protests in support of the anti-kidnapping movement were held in more than 130 cities around the world.

With attendance that was unprecedented in the history of the Andean country, Colombians marched in some 160 towns, sometimes in the presence of local authorities.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe joined the march in the northern city of Valledupar.

"We make our voices heard in gratitude to the Colombians living in so many countries in the world who have joined us today in this chain of spiritual energy against kidnapping and against crime," Uribe said.

In Bogota, people took to the streets with Colombian flags and wore white T-shirts with slogans like, "No more kidnappings, no more lies, no more deaths, no more FARC."

The demonstration in the capital was joined by former Colombian vice presidential candidate Clara Rojas, herself held by FARC for six years until last month, when she was released and reunited with the son she conceived and bore in captivity.

The massive rallies were "wonderful," Rojas said. "It is something that will mark our history. It is the best thing that ever happened."

Most relatives of FARC hostages declined to join the marches for fear of retaliation against their loved ones. Instead, they gathered in a church to pray along with former legislator Consuelo Gonzalez, who was held hostage by the rebels for more than six years before her release alongside Rojas.

Many private and public buildings in Bogota flew Colombian flags and banners in solidarity with the protests.

Several former rebels who are currently in prison asked their former comrades-in-arms to release the hostages and initiate peace talks.

Thousands of Colombians and locals gathered against FARC in other Latin American cities including Caracas, Mexico City, Panama City, San Jose and Guatemala City.

Civil engineer Oscar Morales, 33, launched the initiative for the marches on Facebook, snowballing into Monday's rallies.

According to the peace group Fundacion Pais Libre, some 3,200 people are currently kidnapped in Colombia. Of these, an estimated 770 are thought to be held by FARC, 400 by the leftist National Liberation Army (ELN) and 250 by right-wing paramilitaries, with the remainder in the hands of common criminal organizations.

FARC announced Saturday that they intend to release former legislators Gloria Polanco, Luis Eladio Perez and Orlando Beltran soon, citing health reasons.