Colombian rebels want their US prisoners to return home.
In an exclusive interview with ANNCOL, senior rebel commander Iván Márquez of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) expressed his wish to see three CIA contractors, captured eight months ago by the guerrillas, reunited with their families in the US.
14.10.2003 (By María Engqvist, ANNCOL Stockholm) Iván Márquez, one of the seven members of the FARC Secretariat and the top commander of the left-wing rebel army in Northern Colombia, says that the guerrilla organization does not request anything in return from Washington for the release of three US citizens held by the FARC.
The three US soldiers were captured by rebel troops who shot down their State Department-owned spy plane on February 13 near the US military base at Larandia in southern Colombia. A fourth US soldier and a Colombian intelligence officer were killed in the incident.
Interviewed by ANNCOL's correspondent Frank Monteverde in the dense jungles of northern Colombia, Márquez expressed his wish to see Thomas Howes, Marc Gonsalves and Keith Stansell return to the US as soon as the Colombian government agrees to a proposed prisoner swap, that would also free around 50 Colombian officers and high-profile politicians in return for captured FARC-members.
"We hope that they will soon return home, to the United States, as a result of a prisoner swap or a humanitarian exchange between our organization and the government of Colombia," Márquez said in the interview that was published in length in ANNCOL's Spanish version.
In the interview Márquez also defended recent rebel attacks on US coal transnational Drummond's freight train and an US-operated oil pipeline, saying that these attacks are part of the guerrilla warfare that aims to dry out the sources of income for the Uribe regime in Colombia, that he characterized as a "dictatorship".
Iván Márquez however also made it clear, that the FARC is not per se opposed to US companies investing in Colombia, as long as the contracts benefits the local population more than the investors. "We hope to reach an agreement with these companies in the future," he added.
"This isn't a movie"
The US government claims that the captured US soldiers are in fact "civilians" since they are no longer officially members of the US military but employed by the Northrop Grumman company, which is contracted to conduct military surveillance in Colombia by the Pentagon.
After eight months of unsuccessful attempts by US Special Forces to liberate the three captured agents, the US State Department last week offered up to 5 million dollars for information leading to the arrest of those responsible for the "kidnapping".
An unnamed State Department official told Reuters that "the State Department plans to roll out an aggressive publicity campaign throughout Colombia that includes targeting key FARC leaders believed to be associated with these crimes."
The pronunciation came after a videotaped interview with the three US prisoners was broadcast by the CBS program "60 Minutes II" last Wednesday, their first appearance on television since their capture. Howes, Gonsalves and Stansell said that they were "alive and well" and hoped to be released through diplomacy, warning that a rescue attempt would be deadly.
"We sit in the middle of the jungle. We are in the world of the FARC. We are not in our world," Stansell said on the tape.
"You're not coming to get us and we're going to get out unscathed," he added. "This isn't a movie, this is real life. I don't believe a rescue is possible."
According to the videotaped testimonies of the three agents, they are all in good health and are being treated "with respect" by their captors.
Some of their mercenary colleagues in Colombia's bloody war have had less luck. Only three weeks ago, the 10th US government plane came down in Colombia's northeastern Catatumbo-region, supposedly hit by ground fire from FARC forces. The death of the plane's pilot, US citizen Mario Alvarado, Colombia brings the number of US personnel killed recently in the Colombian conflict to 18.
Many other US personnel, working for both the State Department and US military, are believed to have died in Colombia in recent years although due to the secretive nature of their work details of most of the deaths are still classified.
[Source: Anncol, Col, 14Oct03]
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