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FARC to release kidnapped general

November 20, 2014

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia agreed to release an army general they kidnapped earlier this week. General Ruben Alzate is the highest-ranking military official ever to have been taken by the group.

General Ruben Alzante
Image: Reuters//Colombian Army press office

Colombia's FARC rebel group agreed Wednesday to release a kidnapped general and several others, potentially paving the way for the resumption of peace talks with the government aimed at ending the country's five-decade civil war.

General Ruben Alzate, 55 was kidnapped by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) this past Sunday. He is the highest-ranking military officer to be kidnapped by the group in a half-century of conflict. Corporal Jorge Rodriguez and army adviser Gloria Urrego, who were traveling with Alzate, were also taken prisoner.

"The parties have agreed the conditions needed to set free" Alzate and four others, said a joint statement from Cuban and Norwegian diplomats Rodolfo Benitez and Rita Sandberg, whose countries are facilitating negotiations between the FARC and the Colombian government in Havana, Cuba.

"The parties have agreed on the conditions for the release of the following persons: General Ruben Dario Alzate, soldier Jorge Rodriguez, soldier Cesar Rivera, soldier Jonathan Diaz and Gloria Urrego," Benitez said.

The FARC did not detail exactly when Alzate and the other prisoners are expected to be released, and certain undisclosed conditions need to be met before the hostages are set free, according to Benitez and Sandberg.

Alzate's wife, Claudia Farfan was relieved upon hearing the news.

"God bless, I'm thrilled," she said. "I can't wait for the moment to welcome my husband home."

Hope for resumed talks

The kidnappings threatened to derail historic peace negotiations between FARC and the Colombian government, which the leftist group has battled for over 50 years. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos demanded that FARC immediately release Alzate, saying that the future of peace talks depended on it.

Friedensgespräche Kolumbien in Havanna Kuba 02.11.2014
Alzate's kidnapping threatened to upset historic peace negotiations taking place in HavanaImage: AFP/Getty Images/A. Roque

Immediately after the kidnapping, Santos ordered peace negotiators not to travel to Havana for talks with the rebel group until Alzate was freed. On Wednesday however, Santos expressed optimism that the peace process could resume.

"Once [the prisoners] are free, the government's delegation will return to Havana," Santos' office said in a statement.

"We need to abandon our weapons, the violence and end this armed conflict," Santos said Wednesday in the town of Ataco. "That is why I hope this impasse that has appeared in the Havana negotiations will be resolved soon."

FARC, a leftist guerilla organization which emerged in the mid 20th century in Colombia to battle rural poverty, has fought a dozen Colombian governments since its inception. The conflict has killed more than 200,000 people since it began almost five decades ago.

A US-backed offensive has weakened the rebel group substantially over the last 10 years, and in 2012, the Colombian government launched historic peace negotiations with the group.

bw/jm (AP, AFP, Reuters)