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Friday, March 24, 2017
Colombia: hostage relatives barricade themselves in cathedral
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 Twenty adults and five children ­ relatives of people taken hostage by FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) - have barricaded themselves inside Bogotá cathedral They are calling for President Alvaro Uribe to speed up negotiations with the guerrilla movement so that their relatives - some who were kidnapped years ago - can be freed. The group includes Yolanda Pulecio, mother of the former presidential candidate and leader of the Green Party, Ingrid Betancourt, who was abducted in February 2002. Mrs Pulecio told the president: "The chance of saving 3,000 sons of Colombia is in your hands. We cannot understand how discussions can be held with other groups on the fringes of the law and not with those holding our children." She was referring to the 'historic' peace process involving the government and the main paramilitary groups which started last December. While there is some form of dialogue with the minority guerrilla of ELN (National Liberation Army) ­ many people doubt its outcome ­ following the collapse of negotiations led by the administration of Andrés Pastrana there has been practically no contact with FARC. In a statement the protesters criticised the government for not yet naming the commission of official negotiators of the humanitarian accord, though Uribe has charged two key members of the Catholic Church with initiating contacts with the rebels. These are Mgr Augusto Castro Quiroga, a Consolata missionary and Vice-President of the Bishops' Conference, and Fr Darío Echeverri, secretary of the National Reconciliation Commission. The guerrillas are meeting the priests as independent negotiators, not as representatives of the government. "We are asking for the agreement to be speeded up and for the executive to finally name the commission of negotiators," said Marleny Orjuela, President of the relatives of police agents held by FARC. She said: "We do not know how long we will stay in the cathedral, we will not move from here." The guerrillas have said they will release politicians, soldiers, police agents and three United States citizens in exchange for the release of hundreds of its combatants. They are also asking for a vast area in the south of the country to be demilitarised along the lines of the former 'distension zone' granted to them by Pastrana in October 1998 and subsequently renamed 'Farcland' in reference to the state of total submission of the local population. The government is asking for the release of all the hostages, including those abducted for ransom. It also rejects the idea of another demilitarised area and demands an official commitment by FARC to halt abductions, granting the released rebels exile in another country. Source: MISNA
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