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FARC's US hostages spotted in jungle

©

Latest update : 2008-06-10

Three US Defense Department contractors being held by the FARC were spotted bathing in a river in the jungle, according to Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos, but conditions made rescue attempts impossible.

Three U.S. contract workers held hostage by Colombian rebels since 2003 were spotted by troops in the jungles a few months ago but conditions had made any rescue attempt impossible, authorities said on Monday.

 

The three Americans and French-Colombian politician and former presidential candidate, Ingrid Betancourt, are among the highest profile hostages held for years in jungle camps by Latin America's oldest surviving insurgency.

 

"Our men saw the three Americans bathing in the river," Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos told local radio. "They saw them there and even heard them speaking in English... We were close."

 

U.S. Defense Department contractors -- Marc Gonsalves, Keith Stansell and Thomas Howes -- were captured after their aircraft crashed in the jungles on an anti-drug mission. They were last seen in a rebel video shown in November last year.

 

Attempts to negotiate the release of FARC hostages are deadlocked over a rebel demand President Alvaro Uribe pull troops back from an area the size of New York City in southern Colombia, which he says would allow the rebels to regroup.

 

Weakened by military setbacks and a wave of desertions, the FARC has dwindled to 9,000 fighters from its peak when it had more than 17,000 combatants, bombed cities and controlled large swaths of the country.

 

Violence from the conflict ebbed as FARC forces were driven back into remoter areas. But the rebels, labeled terrorists by U.S. and European officials, remain a potent force in some regions aided by rich finances from the cocaine trade.

Date created : 2008-06-10

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