IBAGUE, Colombia, Feb 13 (Reuters) – Colombia’s FARC rebels released another hostage, bringing the total to four in the past week, but the additional handover of two kidnapped military officers was suspended, the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Sunday.
The releases this week by the FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, has prompted speculation about possible talks with the rebels, even though the government has demanded it release all hostages and cease hostilities before any peace negotiations take place.
A Red Cross team and a former leftist Colombian lawmaker involved in past handovers flew by helicopter into a rural zone to retrieve police patrolman Carlos Ocampo, who was kidnapped by the FARC a month and a half ago.
Ocampo, snatched during an assault on a local mayor he was protecting, looked well and smiled as he stepped off the helicopter in Ibague city and later hugged family members on the tarmac of a military airport in Bogota.
But the expected release of two military officers could not go ahead. Family members said bad weather appeared to have delayed the release of the two hostages.
The Marxist-inspired guerrillas still hold around 16 police and soldiers for political leverage. Some have been held captive for more than a decade in secret camps, where they have often been chained for months or are forced on marches to evade army patrols.
Latin America’s oldest insurgency, the FARC was once a massive rebel army controlling large parts of Colombia. But the guerrillas have been severely weakened by a U.S.-backed security drive since 2002 that has forced them into remote mountains and jungles.
Urban attacks, bombings and kidnappings have fallen sharply in Colombia and foreign investment has risen five-fold as violence dropped off. But backed by profits from the cocaine trade, the FARC remains a potent force in poor, rural areas where state presence is weak.
Past attempts to broker negotiations with the FARC have fallen apart over rebel demands the government demilitarize a rural area to guarantee the safety of its negotiators.
The FARC has in the past said that it would free all hostages only in an exchange for jailed guerrilla fighters, including commanders in prison in the United States. (Writing by Patrick Markey in Bogota; Editing by Eric Walsh)