Colombia: did FARC kill hostages?

Raúl Reyes, secretary of the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC), issued a call June 29 for the suspension of military operations in the southwest of Colombia to allow for the transfer of the bodies of 11 lawmakers who died in guerilla captivity on the 18th. The call came in an open letter to the relatives of the legislators and former cabinet minister Alvaro Leyva Durán, who led the failed peace dialogue wiith the FARC in 1998 and has since been involved in efforts to free the hostages. The letter comes a day after the FARC’s Joint Western Command (Comando Conjunto de Occidente) e-mailed a communique to the Colombian media asserting the legislators had been killed in crossfire between the guerillas and an “unidentified military group.” (La Jornada, Mexico, June 29)

But President Alvaro Uribe, speaking live on national television, accused the FARC of killing the lawmakers in cold blood. Uribe denied that a rescue attempt was made, or that there were any such military operations on June 18 in zones where the hostages are thought to have been held. “The FARC wants to blame these deaths on the armed forces,” said Uribe, whose father was killed by the rebel band two decades ago. “The FARC wants to hide this crime against humanity that it committed.”

The FARC statement said a 12th lawmaker, Sigifredo Lopez, was not with the others at the time of the attack. The 12 deputies are among 60 prominent hostages held by the FARC, along with former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and three US military contractos. More than 3,000 people held in captivity by various Colombian armed factions.

Jo Rosano, the mother of hostage US contractor Marc Gonsalves, expressed exasperation with Uribe. “I don’t trust that man one bit,” she told the AP by telephone from Connecticut. “If we’re close to any type of humanitarian exchange, it’s sabotaged.” (AP, June 28)

See our last posts on Colombia and the FARC.

  1. Colombia: deputies killed in “rescue” op?
    From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 1:

    In a communique dated June 23 and made public on June 28, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-Popular Army (FARC-EP) “Joint Command of the West” announced that on June 18, 11 deputies from the legislative assembly of Valle del Cauca department who had been held hostage by the FARC since April 2002 “died in the middle of crossfire when an as yet unidentified military group attacked the camp where they were located.” A 12th deputy kidnapped with the same group, Sigifredo Lopez, was at a different location when the attack occurred and is still alive, the FARC reported. (Adital, June 28; FARC communique, June 23)

    “From the moment the kidnapping operation was planned, as during its development and over the course of these five years, it was a priority for us to maintain the physical integrity of all of [the deputies], in the face of permanent rescue operations and another attack on the deputies by the army, in another camp, where we had managed to get them out without incident,” the communique continued.

    “In the area of the recent events, broad joint operations of military and paramilitary forces have been developing for several weeks, generating countless combats and a growing presence of government forces,” said the FARC. “To the family members of the deceased deputies, we express our deep regret for the tragedy. We will do everything possible to allow them to recover the mortal remains as soon as possible.”

    “The demented intransigence of President [Alvaro] Uribe [in refusing] to reach a humanitarian exchange and his strategy of military rescues above all considerations brings with it tragedies like the one we are now reporting,” the communique said. (FARC communique, June 23)

    On June 28, Uribe confirmed the news of the deputies’ deaths, but insisted that the military was not engaged in any rescue operations, since it was unaware of the location of the hostages. According to Uribe, “the deputies must have been despicably murdered by the FARC.” On June 29, Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos said the FARC’s version of what happened “has no logic, it’s not rational.” Santos said authorities have “information that proves to us that [the deputies] were murdered in an almost premeditated way.”

    “An act of that nature, of such importance, to maintain it totally hidden over 10 days with the hypothesis of crossfire, is practically impossible,” Santos said in an interview with RCN radio. If the “crossfire” story were true, said Santos, there were no government forces involved in the combat, and if the combat was with “another criminal group” it would have been heard about through “human or technological intelligence sources” and from the civilian population. In a conflict of that type, “two die, or five die, or seven, but all 11 don’t die,” said Santos.

    Santos added that authorities have not yet established whether the deputies were killed all together or separately, since family members of the hostages had warned that they were kept divided in two or three groups. (EFE, June 29)

    On June 30 Fabiola Perdomo, the widow of deputy Juan Carlos Narvaez, criticized Uribe for stating publicly that the FARC had called up the family members of the deputies “in a defiant and arrogant manner” to confirm their deaths. “I communicated with all the families to ask them if the FARC had called them and they told me they hadn’t,” Perdomo told Caracol radio in an interview. “I don’t know where he gets those things,” she said of Uribe. “Now it’s not the lives of the hostages that he’s putting at risk, but our own lives, the families.” (El Diario-La Prensa, NY, July 1)

  2. Colombia: hostages killed by FARC friendly fire?
    Colombia’s Department of Administrative Security (DAS) says it has determined that the 11 hostages were killed when two FARC columns stumbled upon each other in dense jungle and opened fire, each fearing the other was government troops. DAS said the incident took place in El Charco, a jungle zone of Nariño department near the Ecuador border. The agency said the bodies were then transported Florida and Pradera municipalities in Nariño’s mountains, where the FARC has proposed a demilitarized zone for peace talks. Meanwhile FARC commander Raúl Reyes raised the possibility the attack was carried out by foreign mercenaries from the US or Israel—a version denied by the government of Alvaro Uribe. (Reuters, July 28)