FARC offers deal on hostages

Reuters/NY Times:

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe on Thursday offered not to extradite a FARC guerrilla in exchange for the release of hostages after a rebel contact reached out to authorities about a deal.

Details about the FARC contact with the DAS intelligence agency were vague, but the communication may signal an advance in efforts to free rebel hostages, who include French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt and three American contractors.

Attempts to negotiate with the FARC over hostages held for as long as a decade in jungle camps are deadlocked. But the rebels have been weakened recently by the deaths of three top commanders and by desertions fueled by government rewards.

"The DAS director told me she received a call from the FARC, where one FARC individual said: 'If the president agrees ... not to extradite this person from the FARC, then they will seek the immediate release of the hostages," Uribe said without giving names or details.

"I accept that. Tell them that yes we will agree not to extradite that person, but they have to free the hostages."

...

In an attempt to prompt desertions, Uribe has already offered cash bounties, reduced sentences and even residency overseas in countries such as France to guerrillas who surrender with kidnap victims they are guarding.

...

The new leadership could now be under more pressure after leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, once an open supporter of more political recognition for the rebels, urged them this week to free all their hostages.

But Cano could face resistance from the more hardline military wing of the FARC and those tensions could prompt splinter groups to hand themselves in as the FARC struggles to stay united, experts say.

...

Uribe has done a remarkable job of getting the paramilitary militias and many FARC members to switch sides. It is interesting that extradition is what the narco terrorist fear most. Mexico has also extradited some of its narco terrorist to the US.

My guess is that the hostages have become more of a burden than an asset to the FARC. Holding them has made the organization an international pariah. It needs to get rid of the hostage problem before it can hope to negotiate any agreement with Uribe on disarming.

It is hard to know what to make of Hugo Chavez statement suggesting the release of the hostages. It could have been orchestrated in order to make him look better at a time when he has looked like a terrorist sponsor. Or, it could have just been Chavez being flaky.

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