PR coup for Colombian guerrillas
Tuesday 17 June 1997
Then came the big camouflaged Soviet-made MI-17 helicopters, clattering in from the jungle before disgorging the day's special guests - 200 heavily- armed Colombian Marxist guerrillas and the 70 kidnapped government troops they were setting free.
In an almost-surrealistic PR coup, the rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) handed over the young soldiers to their waiting wives and mothers on Sunday in the southern town of Cartagena del Chaira. They had held most of the hostages since overrunning a military base last August, killing 27 soldiers in the government's worst setback of the 30-year guerrilla war.
The quid-pro-quo was not only that the rebels received their best publicity to date, but, through the mediation of the Roman Catholic Church, the Red Cross and the ubiquitous former American president, Jimmy Carter, the government had also agreed to pull out of a 5,000-square mile zone, including Cartagena del Chaira, for a month, to allow the soldiers' release.
That was probably the biggest concession ever made by a government to a South American guerrilla army, and further revealed the weakness of beleaguered President Ernesto Samper, already accused of taking cash from the Cali cocaine cartel during his election campaign. It also threatened to widen differences between Mr Samper and the military over how to prosecute the war against the Farc.
The only military personnel in the agreed zone on Sunday were believed to be the army or air force pilots who flew the MI-17s under the temporary command of International Red Cross representatives. Outside the zone, to be controlled by the Farc until 23 June, military officers were seething.
"This was no humanitarian gesture by the guerrillas. Nor was it generosity on their part," said army commander General Jose Bonett. "It was the end of a kidnapping. Period. We want peace but the only way to have peace is by destroying those who don't keep the peace." He vowed to continue hunting down the estimated 12,000 Farc guerrillas after 23 June in the southern area where the guerrillas often finance themselves by protecting coca fields or cocaine-processing labs run by the big cartels.
Many Colombian peasants in the poor region, near the border with Ecuador, said they felt more secure with the guerrillas than with the army, long criticised for human rights abuses.
"Now, the army is a wounded tiger," said one Jesuit priest, warning that the military may take tougher action or send in feared paramilitary groups against guerrilla collaborators.
- 1 Kim Jong-un shows off airport designed by architect he likely had executed
- 2 Tunisia hotel attack: Locals form 'human shield' to protect hotel from gunman Seifeddine Rezgui
- 3 German ethics council calls for incest between siblings to be legalised by Government
- 4 Fifty Shades of Grey author E.L James's Twitter Q&A didn't go exactly as planned
- 5 Facebook rainbow profile pictures likely being tracked by social network
Kim Jong-un shows off airport designed by architect he likely had executed
Tunisia hotel attack: Locals form 'human shield' to protect hotel from gunman Seifeddine Rezgui
Ex-Scientologist Carmen Llwyelyn blasts 'cult' and her treatment after divorce with Jason Lee
German ethics council calls for incest between siblings to be legalised by Government
Tunisia attack: 'Paralysed' police let gunman run amok for half an hour, says witness
The moment a Queen's Guard soldier lost it and drew his gun at annoying tourist
Greece crisis: The wider lesson is that it’s time to abandon this failed experiment in currencies
'I wish the BBC would stop calling it Islamic State' – David Cameron unleashes frustration at broadcaster
Pentagon accuses Russia of 'playing with fire' over nuclear threats towards Nato
They are neither a 'state' nor 'Islamic': Why we shouldn't call them Isis, Isil or IS
Tunisia beach attack: How can British Muslims respond to the latest outrages?
£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...
£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...
£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...
£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...