Fernando Vergara/AP
Soldiers guard outside the new police station in La Uribe, a former stronghold of the
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

FARC Releases Only Remaining Foreign Prisoner

March 20, 2009 12:30 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
In a historic moment, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, aka FARC, released their last foreign captive on Tuesday, March 17. 

Rebels Free Swede, Their Last Foreign Captive

Erik Roland Larsson, a 69-year-old Swedish retiree was handed over to the state security agency DAS somewhere in the remote Colombian countryside. As he is partially paralyzed, seemingly from a stroke, Larsson was driven directly to a hospital after being lifted from a boat. He will be flown home to Sweden next week, The Guardian reports.

Tommy Stromberg from the Swedish Embassy told the AP, “For us, it’s obviously a very happy day.” FARC requested $5 million for Larsson’s release, but Stromberg said he doesn’t know if a ransom was paid.

Colombia’s defense ministry reported a month ago that Larsson was the only foreign prisoner of FARC. In July 2008, the military rescued 15 hostages from the leftist rebels through military subterfuge, including three American contractors and Ingrid Betancourt, a well-known French-Colombian politician.

Before his retirement Larsson worked on the construction of a nearby hydroelectric project. Later, he and his significant other, Diana Pena, settled into a ranch in Cordoba, a northern Colombian state. They were kidnapped from their home on May 16, 2007. Pena fled her captors during a skirmish between the nation’s security forces and FARC guerillas .
FARC also released four hostages on Feb. 2—three policemen and one soldier—who had been held captive for about 20 months. The group had announced on Dec. 21 that the hostages would be released within a few days, according to the Los Angeles Times. These four were the first FARC hostages to be voluntarily released in about a year.

Piedad Cordoba, a left-wing senator and critic of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, helped organize the release.

Days later, the rebel group also released former lawmaker Sigifredo Lopez and former governor Alan Jara. FARC hopes the release of such individuals will win the freedom of FARC’s own members from government custody, the BBC reported.

However, the rebels did not set any stipulations for the hostage release, according to the Los Angeles Times. A group of politicians and intellectuals called Colombians for Peace wrote a letter last year calling for the release of hostages, and FARC's actions in February are believed to be in response to that letter.

FARC considers the hostage release to be a “humanitarian gesture,” according to the Scotsman. “The new releases have fuelled speculation that the Farc wants to free more captives and gain political leverage to restore its battered image. But negotiations with the government still appear far off as both sides stick to demands for talks.”

FARC is thought to still have more than 700 hostages in its possession. The group says that 24 of those people are considered “exchangeable” for rebel prisoners held by the Colombian government, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Also on Feb. 2, a car bomb exploded near a police building in the city of Cali, killing at least one person. Cali officials hold FARC responsible for the bombing, according to the BBC.

Despite the bombing, reports indicate that the Colombian government has FARC on the defensive; the military has recently forced the rebel group “further into mountain and jungle areas,” according to the BBC.

Background: FARC’s seeming decline

On Oct. 26, former Colombian lawmaker Oscar Tulio Lizcano became the 22nd Colombian hostage to escape from FARC in 2008. He had been held hostage by the rebel group for more than eight years.

The Associated Press reported that Lizcano emerged from the jungle looking like “a crazy man—bearded, grimy, slumped on another man’s shoulder and screaming across a jungle river.”

FARC has been fighting the Colombian government for the past 44 years, but in the last year has shown signs of weakening.

In May, the Colombian government announced, and FARC confirmed, that the founder of the group, Manuel “Sureshot” Marulanda, had died in March. It had just been announced days earlier that the beleaguered organization’s leader, Nelly Avila Moreno, had turned herself in to Colombian authorities, in what looked to be a turning point in the government’s efforts to stamp out the leftist organization.

In July, the rescue of 15 hostages from FARC, including former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, was seen as further evidence of a weakening in the rebel group’s strength. Many observers also saw it as an indication of Uribe’s increasing control over Colombia.

In January 2008, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez urged other nations, including the United States, Colombia and some in Europe, to stop calling FARC a terrorist organization. The idea was widely rejected.

Reference: FARC


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