Colombian president calls on FARC to free the estimated 400 civilian hostages
Ten government hostages (four soldiers and six policemen) held by a rebel group in Colombia for more than a decade were freed on Monday with great expectations but also skepticism because it is believed the same organization still has 400 civilian hostages.
The Marxist oriented and drugs funded guerrilla group known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or the FARC, had pledged to hand over what it says were the last of its government hostages with the purpose of a possible peace negotiation.
Welcome to freedom! President Juan Manuel Santos said in a speech late Monday, addressing the former hostages.
Santos welcomed their release as a step in the right direction, but said it was not sufficient. He demanded the FARC release of all its hostages.
Hundreds of civilians, probably over 400, remain prisoners of the guerrilla group throughout Colombia, according to the nonprofit Free Country Foundation.
The FARC announced plans to release the 10 hostages in February and said it would stop kidnapping civilians for money.
The rebels did not address the fate of its civilian captives then, nor did it renounce kidnapping for political purposes.
It's not enough to stop kidnapping. They must free the civilian captives -- the hostages that remain under their control, said Santos.
Kidnapping government forces and civilians has been a key strategy of the rebel group in its war against the Colombian government.
Dramatic rescues, escapes and hostage handovers have revealed harsh conditions in jungle camps, including stories of prisoners chained to trees, grueling marches between hideouts, torrential rain and blistering sun.
Among the highest profile rescues in recent years was that of Ingrid Betancourt, who was kidnapped in 2002 during her campaign for the presidency. She was freed in a helicopter rescue mission in 2008.