Wounded combatant handed over to International Red Cross, Cuban and Norwegian dignataries
Colombia's Marxist FARC rebels have freed a soldier captured last week during an ambush of a military patrol in which they killed five of his colleagues.
The FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, began a pre-announced ceasefire at midnight last Friday, the same day they captured 25-year-old Carlos Becerra Ojeda during the attack on troops patrolling in the southwestern province of Cauca.
The liberation is another gesture of peace by the FARC and a humanitarian act at the same time, considering that the soldier was lightly wounded during the combat, said a statement posted on www.pazfarc-ep.org.
The soldier was handed over to a delegation comprising the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and representatives of Cuba and Norway, both guarantors in peace talks between the rebels and Colombia's government. “Pvt. Carlos Becerra Ojeda has been liberated today by guerrillas of the FARC’s Jacobo Arenas Column,” the rebels said in a statement datelined Havana, where the insurgents and the Colombian government have been holding peace talks since November 2012.
President Juan Manuel Santos hailed the release of Becerra, while implicitly criticizing the FARC for taking him prisoner in the first place. “We hope this release is a demonstration of the irreversible decision to end the conflict and that this type of thing does not happen again,” the president said on Twitter.
The FARC, who has battled a succession of Colombian governments since the mid-1960s, has called ceasefires each year over Christmas since the peace talks began but made the surprise announcement last week that this year's ceasefire would be indefinite, only ending if government troops attack. It also reiterated on Thursday its insistence that an impartial international entity such as the Red Cross or a regional intergovernmental body monitor the ceasefire.
The government has said it will not agree to verification of a ceasefire until other goals in the peace talks have been achieved.