On Saturday Colombian soldiers engaged in combat with Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas in the department of Caquetá, in the country’s south. The firefight took place just yards away from a jungle encampment where the guerrillas were holding five hostages: soldiers and policemen who had been in FARC custody since the late 1990s.
Acting under orders to execute their hostages at the first sign of a rescue attempt, the FARC captors cold-bloodedly killed four of the men at pointblank range. The deceased hostages are:
- Army Sergeant José Libio Martínez, taken hostage December 21, 1997;
- Police Captain Édgar Yesid Duarte, taken hostage October 14, 1998;
- Police Lieutenant Elkin Hernández Rivas, taken hostage October 14, 1998; and
- Police Intendant Álvaro José Moreno, taken hostage December 9, 1999.
A fifth hostage, Police Sergeant Luis Alberto Erazo (December 9, 1999) escaped and has been reunited with his family.
WOLA condemns in the strongest possible terms the cruelty with which the FARC detained, held, and killed these four men. Our sympathies are with their families, who were forced to wait more than a decade for a reunion that now cannot happen.
Today, ten police and military hostages remain in FARC custody. The guerrillas hold dozens, perhaps hundreds, more civilians for ransom.
In WOLA’s view, the only viable option is to free all hostages unconditionally. We call on FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri alias “Timochenko” to order the immediate and unilateral release of the remaining hostages, as a gesture of goodwill that may open the door to a negotiated end to 47 years of conflict.
All peaceful efforts to achieve this goal of a unilateral release deserve vigorous support from the Colombian government and the international community.
Over the years a few brave individuals, using their contacts with the guerrillas, have pursued these peaceful efforts, with varying degrees of success. They have done so at great cost to their reputations and even their security. They have been publicly accused of being “appeasers,” “FARC sympathizers” or worse.
WOLA recognizes the indispensable efforts of people like Piedad Córdoba, Iván Cepeda and the Colombians for Peace group; Conservative Party politician Álvaro Leyva; Communist Party politician Carlos Lozano; Swiss diplomat Jean-Pierre Gontard; ex-presidents Ernesto Samper and the late Alfonso López Michelsen; and representatives of Colombia’s Catholic Church, among others. When they succeeded, these individuals helped win freedom for FARC hostages through dialogue. Their efforts are not forgotten at this sad time. They must be supported, not disparaged.