The rebel group that has made kidnapping a central part of its operating procedure in Colombia says it is halting the practice and releasing 10 security force members it has held for as long as 14 years.
“From this day on we are halting the practice in our revolutionary activity,” the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) said in a statement released on its website.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos issued a cautious message on Twitter.
“It’s an important and necessary step, but not sufficiently in the right direction,” Santos tweeted.
The AP reports:
“Sunday’s announcement could advance prospects for a peace dialogue sought by the rebels. The government has insisted the FARC end all kidnappings as a minimal first step.
“The rebels did not say, however, that they were abandoning hostilities. They have recently stepped up hit-and-run attacks and the military blames them for a bombing and mortar attack on two police posts in the past month that killed 15 people and wounded nearly 100, most of them civilians.”
The AP adds that the FARC’s territories operate with relative autonomy, so whether any of this would come to pass is up in the air.
The Christian Science Monitor provides a bit of background on the rebel group:
“In the 1980s and ’90s, at the height of the Colombian conflict, the FARC used ransom payments to fund their fight against the state, and used political hostages to put pressure on the government. Many rightwing paramilitary groups began to emerge in reaction the FARC’s widespread practice of kidnapping, and Colombia became known as the kidnapping capital of the world.
“In the mid 1990s Colombia witnessed more than 2,500 abductions a year, most of which were attributed to the FARC. By 2011 there were 298 kidnappings in Colombia, according to the defense ministry, with the FARC responsible for 26 percent of those (more than 60 percent of the kidnappings today are attributed to common criminals).”
Caracol Radio spoke to analysts, who said that the statement from FARC appears credible, even if similar statements have in the past resulted in no decrease in kidnappings.
“Today, the circumstances are different and you have to look at this development with optimism,” professor Alejo Vargas told Caracol. “The context right now is that this guerilla is wounded, very exhausted without very many options. Maybe they’re thinking their only option is a negotiated exit.”
The Christian Science Monitor spoke to another analyst who had a dimmer view:
“Alfredo Rangel, a security analyst, says there is little sense in the FARC declaring an end to the practice of kidnapping if it continues to demand extortion payments. ‘If they are going to continue to extort people, we haven’t gotten anywhere,’ he said. The FARC have traditionally used kidnapping as punishment for failing to pay extortion payments. ‘So now they are going to place bombs instead? That’s hardly a great advance.'”
A short programing note: This weekend This American Life aired an episode about a kidnapping victim in Colombia who “spends his nights listening to a radio station that plays messages from the families of the kidnapped.”