Colombia’s leftist rebel movement has reiterated its offer to release a former US serviceman it has been holding for nearly 40 days, a top rebel commander says.
The country’s largest guerilla army, however, insisted on Tuesday that the government send a high-level delegation to retrieve US citizen Kevin Scott Sutay, who was seized by the rebels on June 20.
“We have put the ball in the government’s court,” rebel leader Rodrigo Granda, who is also known by the nom de guerre Ricardo Tellez, told reporters in the Cuban capital of Havana, where the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and Colombian government negotiators have been conducting peace talks since last year to end Colombia’s nearly half-century-old conflict.
“We proposed a commission of top people,” Granda said.
The FARC said it was prepared to release Sutay to a “humanitarian commission” that includes representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross and Piedad Cordoba, a former senator who has often served as an intermediary.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, however, has said that he will not allow Cordoba to be part of the commission, only ICRC representatives.
Sutay, a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is a recently retired Marine, who was captured by the guerrillas in the southern region of Guaviare, a hotspot for Colombia’s decades-old civil conflict.
The US ambassador to Colombia has said he had nothing to do with the US military mission in Colombia, a close US ally.
The FARC, however, has called Sutay a “mercenary” and Granda even claimed that Sutay’s belongings raised suspicions about his activities in Colombia.
“What would you think of a man who is in a war zone, who has a secret camera in his watch, who is carrying [global] positioning equipment … who has a military uniform in his suitcase?| Granda asked.
The FARC said it is is willing to free the American as a gesture amid the peace negotiations, which have been taking place in the Cuban capital since late last year.
Formed in the 1960s, the FARC is the oldest active guerrilla group in the Western Hemisphere and it is believed to have about 8,000 armed fighters.