Colombia Captive Free After 11 Years
Florencia, Colombia. Sgt. Pablo Emilio Moncayo’s family waited 11 years for Colombian rebels to decide to let their prisoner go. Then came an anxious year of waiting for it to actually happen.
Now that the guerrillas have freed two captive soldiers — the first such move in more than a year — it appears families of others still held hostage have only slim hopes of seeing any more releases soon.
Moncayo was one of the longest-held hostages of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). He was released two days after another fellow soldier, and flown by helicopter from an unannounced handover spot to an emotional reunion with his family in the city of Florencia.
In a statement given to the humanitarian team that picked up Moncayo, FARC commander Alfonso Cano said: “With this unilateral gesture, the FARC considers the path cleared for the immediate exchange of prisoners of war.”
But President Alvaro Uribe has opposed a swap unless any guerrillas who are freed agree to abandon the FARC. Uribe has always insisted any rebels freed as part of a prisoner swap be taken in by another country, such as France.
Uribe, who leaves office in August after two four-year terms, is hugely popular for aggressively fighting the FARC and dealing it crushing blows.
Piedad Cordoba, an opposition senator who joined the Red Cross on the mission to pick up Moncayo, has said the guerrillas insist that after freeing the two soldiers they will now end their unilateral releases and press the government for a prisoner exchange.
But candidates in the May 30 election to choose Uribe’s successor have shown little willingness to negotiate and violence has continued. A bombing blamed on the FARC last week killed nine people in the port of Buenaventura.
Moncayo’s father, high school teacher Gustavo Moncayo, gained fame walking halfway across Colombia in 2007 to rally support for his son’s release, wearing chains around his neck and wrists like those used at times by the rebels to bind their prisoners.
The National Fund for Personal Freedom says there are 77 hostages in the country, including those held by the FARC, common criminals and a smaller rebel group, the National Liberation Army.