The Washington Office on Latin America celebrates today’s release of Armando Acuña and Henry López, hostages of Colombia’s FARC guerrilla group since May 2009 and May 2010, respectively. We similarly celebrate Wednesday’s release of Marcos Baquero (June 2009). We anticipate a quick and smooth release on Sunday of Guillermo Solórzano (June 2007) and Salín Sanmiguel (May 2008).
The heartwarming images of the three men reunited with their families are a testament to the discreet, professional logistical work of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the government of Brazil, and Piedad Córdoba and Colombians for Peace. Much credit also goes to the government of Colombia, which responded to the FARC’s announced liberation of the five hostages by allowing it to go forward, withdrawing troops from pickup zones and presenting no obstacles.
The FARC continues to hold sixteen Colombian military and police officials in remote encampments, where they are kept in chains, in conditions that grossly violate international humanitarian law. Some have been hostages for as many as 13 years. We join with the millions of Colombians who for years have been calling on the FARC to release these sixteen men now, without conditions.
We are encouraged by media reports indicating that, as a result of quiet exchanges of messages between the FARC and the government of President Juan Manuel Santos, the guerrillas may be near agreeing to release these hostages as a precondition for a larger peace dialogue. WOLA believes that this interlocution should continue, and would view the launch of a peace process — a credible effort to silence the guns and end the country’s long armed conflict — as a very positive and necessary development. We also hope that, at this fragile stage, these initial contacts continue to take place in total secrecy.
We note that the Colombian government is requiring, as preconditions for formal negotiations, that the FARC agree to a cessation of hostilities, including kidnapping, the holding of hostages, the recruitment of child soldiers and the use of landmines. Full compliance with these requirements will be hard to verify, but since all of these practices are gross violations of international humanitarian law, we call on the FARC and all other parties to Colombia’s conflict to abandon them immediately, without regard to whether a peace process is in place.
More specifically, we call on the FARC to release, immediately and unconditionally, the two paper-company employees it kidnapped yesterday in El Tambo, Cauca. Actions like these do great damage to the climate of trust and public support that future steps toward peace will require.