Colombia's FARC rebels pledged Sunday, on the eve of worldwide protests against the cocaine funded radical guerrilla group, to release three hostages in poor health after seven years of captivity in the jungle.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) offered to release the three former members of Congress with the help of leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and a Colombian opposition senator. "We ask President Hugo Chavez and Senator Piedad Cordoba that they personally, or through representatives, receive in Colombian territory lawmakers Gloria Polanco, Luis Eladio Perez and Orlando Beltran" said a guerrilla statement published in Anncol, a news agency close to the rebels. The FARC said they were releasing the three hostages, who were kidnapped in 2001, "unilaterally because of the state of their health". The three are among 43 high-profile hostages, including three US citizens and Franco-Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, whom the FARC want to exchange for 500 rebels held in Colombian and US prisons. The announcement comes a month after the FARC released two hostages – former Senator Consuelo Gonzalez and Betancourt's former presidential campaign manager, Clara Rojas -- to Chavez's government and the Red Cross. The chief of Colombia's military, General Freddy Padilla de Leon, said in a statement that President Alvaro Uribe welcomed any "unilateral releases without conditions". Padilla added that the FARC announcement was "the first consequence" of the demonstrations planned for Monday across Colombia and 125 capitals worldwide to denounce the rebel group. The FARC, which are involved in drug trafficking and are holding some 750 people hostage, are classified as a terrorist organization by the United States, European Union and the Colombian government. However some hostages' relatives, unions and leftist parties oppose the demonstration spearheaded by a group of young Colombians fed up with FARC tactics. Relatives fear that the demonstrations could provoke the rebels into hurting hostages. Radical groups accuse President Uribe's government, which has a solid public support 75% backing, of trying to gain further backing for its hard-line policies. "Who will benefit from this march?" Betancourt's mother, Yolanda Pulecio, was quoted a saying in Semana magazine. "Maybe neither the hostages nor the humanitarian exchange or peace will benefit". Former Colombian president and scholar Belisario Betancur said that Venezuelan president has managed to unite Colombians around the figure of president Uribe, while he is increasingly and voluntarily isolated from international public opinion. "We all Colombians must be grateful to President Chavez because with his verbal aggressions and foul language has united us round the figure of a great president, a great leader such as President Uribe", said Betancur.