Colombia suspends military operations ahead of hostage release
Colombia`s military has suspended its operations in the east in order to allow the liberation of two soldiers held by the leftist FARC rebels, authorities said Sunday.
Bogota: Colombia`s military has suspended its operations in the east in order to allow the liberation of two soldiers held by the leftist FARC rebels, authorities said Sunday.
The move came after FARC guerrillas warned that increased military activity was jeopardizing the release of the two soldiers, captured on November 9 in the Arauca province, and of a Colombian general abducted with two others on November 16.
"The national government, conforming to established protocols, has already suspended operations of the public force in the sector," the defense ministry said in a statement, adding that it had not yet received details on where the two soldiers were to be handed over.
Their release is scheduled for Tuesday under an agreement reached between the government and the rebels that also arranged for the general to be freed at a later date.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos made the release of the hostages a condition for restarting the two-year peace negotiations which he suspended after the general`s abduction.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) had warned earlier Sunday they may no longer release the captives due to military action in the Choco region where General Ruben Alzate was taken.
Troop deployments, aircraft overflights and movement-restricting security measures have brought life in the jungle region to a standstill.
"These communities have been practically besieged by the army," the FARC said in statement from its delegation in Havana.
As long as the military maintains a heavy presence in the jungle, Alzate and other soldiers are unlikely to be freed, the guerrilla group said.
The defense ministry insisted it had not attempted to mount any rescue operation and its presence was solely "for the protection of citizens."
General Alzate was kidnapped on November 16 in the remote Choco region, sending into disarray the peace talks aimed at ending Latin America`s longest-running insurgency.
The 50-year struggle has claimed more than 220,000 lives.
The FARC called for a reduction in military operations before freeing the general, and the Red Cross has been asked to assist in the handover.