Nov 19, 2014 1:45 PM
Rebels back Colombia peace talks after capture
The Associated Press
HAVANA (AP) Colombia*s largest rebel group energetically defended negotiations aimed at ending a half-century insurgency even as those talks hung in the balance following the rebels' surprise capture of an army general.
President Juan Manuel Santos suspended the talks after the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia captured Gen. Ruben Dario Alzate and two others as they traveled on a remote river in western Colombia over the weekend.
On the second anniversary of the start of talks, FARC commander best known by his alias Ivan Marquez said the biggest achievement so far is a growing sense of reconciliation among Colombians.
But progress is being undermined by the guerrillas' latest actions, which have infuriated Colombian officials. In addition to the capture of Alzate, a U.S.-trained general who oversaw a counterinsurgency task force, FARC members in the past two weeks have captured two soldiers during a firefight in northeastern Colombia and have killed two Indians.
Yielding to rebels' demand for a bilateral cease-fire would be political suicide for Santos, who has long rejected such an option amid criticism from conservative opponents and military officials who say it would allow the guerrillas to regroup after a decade of heavy battlefield losses.
Statements by rebel leaders in Havana suggest they want a quick solution to the impasse. The two sides have already agreed on wide-reaching agreements on agrarian reform, political participation for the FARC and how to jointly combat illicit drugs in what was long the world's largest cocaine producer.
Marquez said Wednesday that it's up to the FARC's military commander in Colombia's jungles, who is known as Timochenko, to decide Alzate's fate. Still, he said he trusted that the International Red Cross and the peace process' international guarantors, including Cuba and Norway, could play a role in securing his release if needed.
The FARC considers military personnel to be prisoners of war but released all soldiers and swore off kidnapping of civilians before the start of peace talks in 2012.