Colombia, rebels agree on steps to free general

AP News
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Posted: Nov 19, 2014 8:34 PM
Colombia, rebels agree on steps to free general

HAVANA (AP) — Countries assisting peace talks between Colombia's government and leftist rebels said Wednesday night that an agreement has been reached to free a general whose capture jeopardized the negotiations.

A joint statement from Cuba and Norway said the two sides agreed "on the conditions for the release" of Colombian army Gen. Ruben Dario Alzate and four others taken captive by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia in recent days.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos immediately celebrated the accord, saying in a statement that government peace negotiators would return to Havana as soon as all the prisoners were released.

"God bless, I'm thrilled," Alzate's wife, Claudia Farfan, told The Associated Press upon receiving the news. "I can't wait for the moment to welcome my husband home."

The brief statement by the international guarantors didn't say when the captives would be let go or what the conditions are, saying only that the International Red Cross would play a role as it has in previous releases.

The development came on the second anniversary of the start of the peace talks, which Santos suspended when the FARC grabbed Alzate and two others as they traveled on a remote river in western Colombia on Sunday.

Earlier Wednesday, the FARC energetically defended the negotiations aimed at ending the half-century conflict. A FARC commander best known by his alias Ivan Marquez said the biggest achievement so far is a growing sense of reconciliation among Colombians.

The two sides have already reached agreements on agrarian reform, political participation for the FARC and how to jointly combat illicit drugs in what was long the world's largest cocaine producer.

But the remaining issues, including how the FARC will lay down their arms and whether commanders will face prosecution for atrocities and drug-trafficking, are some of the thorniest.

The guerrillas' recent actions have also infuriated Colombians. In addition to capturing Alzate, a U.S.-trained general who oversaw a counterinsurgency task force, FARC fighters in the past two weeks killed two Indians and grabbed two soldiers during a firefight in northeastern Colombia. Santos had also demanded the release of the two soldiers to resume talks.

The FARC has been pushing for a bilateral cease-fire but Santos has long rejected such an option amid criticism from conservative opponents who say it would allow the guerrillas to regroup after a decade of heavy losses at the hands of the US-trained military.

The FARC considers captured military personnel to be prisoners of war but released all soldiers and swore off kidnapping of civilians before the start of peace talks in 2012.

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Associated Press writer Andrea Rodriguez reported this story in Havana and Joshua Goodman reported from Bogota, Colombia.