Colombia's Santos says FARC release of hostages will be next week

Colombia's Santos says FARC release of hostages will be next week
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos

BOGOTA - Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said he hoped next week to secure the release of five captives, including an army general, held by Marxist FARC rebels, a move that will allow stalled peace talks to continue.

In a message from his Twitter account on Saturday, Santos said the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) had provided the coordinates to the pick up zone to free the hostages and he would facilitate the operation in coming days.

He did not name the captives or say whether they would be freed all at once or on different days, but the FARC on Sunday seized army General Ruben Dario Alzate and two people traveling with him in the Pacific coastal area of Choco. A week earlier two soldiers were taken hostage in eastern Arauca department.

After a tense few days, the FARC on Wednesday promised to release all five captives in a bid to renew peace talks halted abruptly by Santos following the abductions.

"The coordinates have been received. I am giving instructions to facilitate the liberation for next week," Santos said in the Tweet, probably referring to an order that military activity in the areas is halted to allow the FARC to move securely.

The suspension of negotiations - taking place in Havana - is the most serious setback to the peace efforts after two years of discussions that have resulted in partial accords on three out of five agenda items.

Even while security has improved massively over the last decade or so, talks have been taking place amid continued conflict and attacks on civilian and military targets continue, as well as offensives against economic infrastructure.

General Alzate, a lawyer and a soldier were taken hostage by a FARC patrol as they left a boat in the poor and crime-ridden region of Choco. Santos immediately suspended talks until the rebels freed them.

Alzate is the highest-ranking military captive ever taken by the FARC.

The rebels' decision to release the captives may counter critics of the peace process who say the FARC is not serious about ending Latin America's longest-running war, which has killed more than 200,000 people since it began in 1964.

The FARC says it has stopped kidnapping for ransom but maintains military personnel are fair targets in the absence of a ceasefire. Alzate was considered a prisoner of war.

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