FARC rebels free last promised hostage

February 6, 2009 12:00 am

, CALI, Feb 6 – Colombia’s FARC rebels Thursday freed their sixth hostage in five days, fulfilling a promise they made in December and leaving only 22 police and military among the hundreds of captives they are still holding.

Former provincial lawmaker Sigifredo Lopez, 45, was lifted from a jungle location by Brazilian-loaned helicopters to an emotional welcome in Cali by his sons Lucas, 20, and Sergio, 18, after nearly five years in rebel captivity.

"Thank God, I’m alive and healthy," Lopez told reporters after landing.

He was the sixth hostage set free by the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) since Sunday, after three policemen, a soldier and a former mayor.

The releases were promised by the FARC in December to Colombians for Peace, a mediating group headed by Senator Piedad Cordoba, who along with three members of the International Committee of the Red Cross accompanied Lopez on his journey to freedom.

Cordoba told reporters she had with her a letter from FARC leader Alfonso Cano, but that she would not disclose its contents until later.

Lopez was the only survivor of a group of 12 Valle department lawmakers who were killed after they were kidnapped by FARC rebels disguised as soldiers in April 2002. The rebels later admitted killing the captives when they mistakenly thought the army was about to close in.

"They did not deserve to be murdered like they were by FARC," said Lopez, who survived the massacre because he took ill and was separated from the other captives.

"My suffering isn’t worth a damn compared to the pain the massacre inflicted not only on the families (of the victims) but on Colombia’s democracy," he added.

Lopez was the last politician in FARC custody, but the rebels are still holding 22 military and police they are seeking to swap for some 500 guerrillas held in Colombian and US jails. The group also holds hundreds of lower-level hostages.

Cordoba said the letter from Cano was a response to a message she sent FARC on Wednesday, when she received from the rebels the fifth hostage, former Meta governor Alan Jara, asking them to set more flexible conditions for the prisoner swap.

President Alvaro Uribe has so far rejected a FARC demand for an extensive demilitarized area where the swap talks can take place.

The FARC — Latin America’s oldest and most powerful guerrilla force — has been at war with the Colombian government since the 1960s.


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