Colombia’s largest guerrilla group the FARC was set to release two abducted policemen, and promised to free a soldier, in a gesture that could calm the controversy that threatened to destabilize peace talks with the government.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) agreed to hand the hostages over to delegates from the Red Cross and NGO Colombians for Peace on February 14, after the military said they would suspend operations in the area.
The FARC kidnapped the two policemen in the province of Valle del Cauca on January 25. According to police, the officers had been investigating criminal activities in a rural zone on the outskirts of Cali.
The rebels still hold Josue Alvarez, a soldier kidnapped in the southwestern department of Nariño on 30 January, but will release him in a separate operation on 16 February, according to negotiators.
Colombia’s second largest guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), announced on 12 February that it had released five of the six kidnapped employees of Geo Explorer, a subsidiary of Canadian mining company Braeval.
However, the claim was promptly dismissed by the army who said they had made no contact with the ELN and there was no trace of the hostages.
The hostages now look set to be released as early as February 15, after the military confirmed they were in discussions with the guerrillas.
The fate of the two German tourists also kidnapped by the ELN in January remains uncertain.
Elsewhere in Colombia, fighting between the military and the guerrillas continued, with seven soldiers and six FARC guerrillas reported killed in combat in Caqueta.
InSight Crime Analysis
After the kidnappings, the FARC made an announcement defending their right to take “prisoners of war,” suggesting that the men could be held for some time.
However, it makes sense that the rebels are backing down so quickly. It is likely the guerrillas carried out the kidnappings as a show of strength in the wake of their failed attempts to secure a bilateral ceasefire. This backfired as public outrage over the kidnappings fueled headlines proclaiming the peace talks to be in crisis, and left the guerrillas facing a PR dilemma.
It is likely the ELN also had an eye on the peace talks when kidnapping the mining workers, hoping to muscle their way into the negotiating table. However, this was a risky strategy which took a turn for the worse over their far-fetched claims the two elderly Germans were spies, making a speedy release of the mining hostages, who will likely soon be joined by the Germans, a better option.