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FARC releases two soldiers

November 25, 2014

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia have freed two captives. President Juan Manuel Santos has conditioned the resumption of peace talks on the release of five soldiers held by FARC.

Image: Daniel Martinez/AFP/Getty Images

On Tuesday, a mission led by the Red Cross and representatives from Cuba and Norway retrieved two soldiers from a jungle location and ferried them to an army base for medical checkups. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) had captured the soldiers during a firefight with the army on November 9.

In a statement, the rebel delegation to peace negotiations in Havana announced that with the safe return of the two soldiers, FARC could turn its attention to the release of General Ruben Dario Alzate Mora, 55, and two other captives snatched in a separate incident on November 16. President Santos called Alzate's capture "totally unacceptable" and suspended peace talks. Santos had made his efforts toward ending the civil war a central part of his re-election campaign earlier this year.

FARC captured Alzate as he and two colleagues traveled along a river in civilian clothes and without bodyguards en route to inspect an energy project. The group claims to focus only on capturing military personnel and has stated that it long ago quit kidnappings for ransom used during the 50-year conflict, which has led to the deaths of more than 200,000 people and forced 5 million to leave their homes.

Juan Manuel Santos and General Ruben Dario Alzate Mora
President Santos (left) with General AlzateImage: imago/Xinhua/Colombian Presidency

Had FARC not caught such high-profile quarry, Paulo Cesar Rivera, 24, and Jonathan Andres Diaz, 23, could have remained captive longer. Both come from poor families, far removed from the political and economic elite in Bogota. Santos had previously urged FARC to release the soldiers but did not suspend talks until a week later, after the kidnappings of Alzate, the first general taken by FARC in a half-century of fighting, and the two others in the violent Pacific department of Choco.

'Without any scares'

FARC accuses Colombia's army of launching attacks in Choco, the jungle-covered region where Alzate heads a task force charged with fighting rebels and drug traffickers. However, the Defense Ministry, which has agreed to halt local operations as a precondition for the captives' release, denies stepping up military activity, claiming that its troop movements in Choco protect civilians.

"We hope the operations led by the Defense Ministry and the military siege against the civilian population will be immediately suspended so that the release of these individuals can go ahead without any scares," FARC announced on Tuesday.

FARC has announced no time or place for Alzate's release. Three previous attempts at peace negotiations have fallen through.

mkg/msh (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)