Colombian rebels say open to hostage dialogue

Other News Materials 29 October 2008 05:14 (UTC +04:00)

Colombia's FARC guerrillas are willing to enter talks with a group of academics, politicians and former captives who offered to broker negotiations about hostages held for years in jungle camps, the rebels said.

Attempts at talks between President Alvaro Uribe's government and the FARC are stalled over a rebel demand the state demilitarize a safe haven to guarantee security for the release of captive politicians, soldiers and police officers, Reuters reported.

Latin America's oldest insurgency, the FARC has said before that there could be no hostage exchange under Uribe, a Washington ally whose troops have severely weakened the rebels with help of billions of dollars in U.S. military aid.

"We welcome the letter inviting us to collectively explore pathways to peace away from the current government line of perpetual war," said the FARC statement published on the Anncol website that often carries rebel communiques.

How discussions could take place with the FARC was unclear but analysts said any contact might reopen dialogue over a deal to free a group of high-profile hostages who the rebels want to exchange for jailed guerrilla fighters.

The rebel statement was dated October 16, days before a hostage, Oscar Lizcano, escaped after eight years in captivity. The former lawmaker managed to flee with one of his captors into the jungle before reaching an army post.

Lizcano's escape was the latest strike against the FARC, which has lost three top commanders this year. In July, a group of hostages including French-Colombian Ingrid Betancourt and three Americans was freed in a surprise military operation.

"They are looking to open up a possible dialogue, they mention exploratory talks," said Leon Valencia, a former rebel and academic who is named in the letter. "But any actual negotiation has to be with the state."

The FARC urged the involvement of Latin American presidents in any initiative.

The group of prominent Colombians offering talks is led by Sen. Piedad Cordoba, a leftist politician who was instrumental this year in negotiating the release of a group of six FARC hostages to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.