Vatican help sought for FARC hostages

January 13, 2009 12:00 am

, BOGOTA, Jan 12 – Colombian President Alvaro Uribe said he is seeking help from the Vatican in securing freedom for six hostages held by leftist rebels.

Uribe said he would like the Vatican to help oversee any swap of rebel fighters from the FARC guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, in exchange for the six captives.

"If the Catholic Church — whether at the national or Vatican level … can help the hostages to be given their freedom, my government would authorize it and welcome it," said the Colombian president.

The FARC has offered to unilaterally free six of the hostages it is holding — two politicians, three police officers and a member of the military — at a time and date to be determined.

The guerrillas have indicated that they hope to swap several high-value hostages for some 500 of their imprisoned leftist fighters.

The hostages are to be delivered to a committee headed by Senator Piedad Cordoba, who in the past has served as an intermediary with the guerrillas, along with officials from the International Committee for the Red Cross.

The rebel group, which has waged a four-decade battle against the government, is believed to still be holding hundreds of hostages in jungle hideouts.

The appeal for Vatican intervention was believed to be a response to FARC demands for a high-level individual or democratic organization’s involvement in the process.

Church officials in Colombia said they were surprised by the request, which caught them off guard, but expressed their willingness to be helpful in any way they can to achieve freedom for the captives.

FARC officials in a statement released last week renewed an offer to free six hostages, but insisted that international interlocutors be part of any future handover.

The FARC was dealt a major setback last July when army commandos rescued 15 prominent hostages, including three Americans and former presidential candidate Ingrid capitalfmnewncourt, who was held for six years.


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