Cautious welcome to pledge by Colombia rebels

FARC's offer to release "prisoners" may not immediately yield peace talks with the government.

    The announcement by FARC rebels that they will halt abductions for ransom and release 10 remaining "prisoners" is being greeted cautiously in Colombia.

    President Juan Manuel Santos called the news "an important and necessary step" for peace but still insufficient for peace talks with the guerrilla force which has been battling the government since 1964.

    Santos on Monday said he also wants to see an end to armed attacks, not merely a ceasefire, and added that he is willing to offer "guarantees" to the rebels for the release of the hostages as long as a "media circus" atmosphere is avoided.

    "My God, no more tricks and deception. We don't even know where the hostages are. They haven't provided the co-ordinates. Free them now!"-

    - Juan Manuel Santos , Colombian President

    FARC's concessions came three months after the rebels set off massive anti-rebel protests throughout the country by allegedly executing four long-time hostages during a government raid.

    Ingrid Betancourt [who was held hostage for six years] told Aljazeera that FARC's decision is historic.

    “I think it's truly historical...of course we're expecting the hostages to get back to their families.  It's also important in the sense that there's a change of strategy coming from FARC...this is kind of a major statement”

    Carlos Lozano, editor of Colombian Communist newspaper, said FARC's move was something the government and parts of public opinion have been demanding from this insurgent group.

    "That's why this move is important. But at the same time, we must ask the government: what is their peace gesture? We know what is the gesture from the guerrillas.”

    On Sunday, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels pledged to stop kidnapping for ransom and to release all ten remaining "prisoners of war," marking a historic shift in their strategy.

    Tom Hart Dyke, a botanist from the UK who was held captive for nine months by the FARC in 2000, told Al Jazeera the rebels had to make such a decision.

    "There is a degree of sceptism towards FARC, but it is a positive step, FARC have no choice in the long term," said Hart Dyke.

    Release of hostages

    FARC's announcement on Sunday to release all 10 remaining police and and military police hostages came three months after the group's alleged execution of four long-time captives during a government raid set off massive anti-rebel protests throughout Colombia.

    "We wish to announce that in addition to our already announced plans to free six prisoners of war, we will free the four others who remain under our power," the group said in a statement on its website.

    The promised liberations could help advance negotiations to end the long civil conflict as the government says the group must free all the hostages it holds before talks can start. However, FARC did not say it was abandoning hostilities.

    The rebels announced on December 27 that they would free six of the captives, but said a month later that they were delaying the release because of a government "militarization" of the area where it said release was planned.

    Neither the earlier statement nor the new one specified the location or set a date.

    That announcement, also on the rebel website, prompted President Juan Manuel Santos to issue a tweet: "My God, no more tricks and deception. We don't even know where the hostages are. They haven't provided the co-ordinates. Free them now!"

    The FARC statement however stopped short of agreeing to cease hostilities with the government and failed to spell out if Colombian security forces would still be considered legitimate targets for hostage-taking.

    Latin America's last major rebel movement, the FARC was founded in 1964. It has been releasing captives piecemeal since early 2008.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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