Latest update: 14/06/2010
- Alvaro Uribe - Colombia - FARC - kidnapping
Army rescues three officers held by FARC
Colombian forces have rescued General Luis Mendieta, the highest-ranking hostage held by the FARC guerrilla army, as well as two other captive security officers on Sunday.
REUTERS - Colombian troops have rescued three officers kidnapped by FARC rebels, including a police general captured nearly 12 years ago in an another blow to the weakened guerrilla movement, authorities said on Sunday.
Rebels from the FARC or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia have been battered by President Alvaro Uribe’s U.S.-backed security drive that has pushed them into remote jungles and mountains, where they are still holding military hostages.
Uribe said troops rescued General Luis Mendieta, the highest-ranking and longest-held FARC hostage, and Colonel Enrique Murillo, who were among the 22 troops and police in the hands of Latin America’s oldest surviving insurgency.
Authorities later confirmed a third officer, Sergeant Arbey Delgado, had also been rescued.
“They are fighting in the jungles of Guaviare to get them out,” Uribe said. “They are both in the hands of our armed forces.”
The rescue came just before Colombians vote for Uribe’s successor after two terms dominated by his unceasing war on FARC guerrillas and cocaine traffickers. His former defence minister, Juan Manuel Santos, is favoured to win the June 20 election and promises to keep a tough line on rebels.
The rescue is the highest profile operation since a 2008 mission that freed former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and three U.S. contractors who were kidnapped when their airplane crashed while on an anti-drug mission.
Both Mendieta and Murillo were captured by the FARC when rebels overran Mitu town in the jungle province of Vaupes in November 1998. They have been seen only occasionally since in FARC videos of hostages.
“I can’t believe it, I am the happiest woman in the world, I am dying to hug him after so many years of absence,” said Maria Teresa de Mendieta, the rescued general’s wife.
Once a powerful peasant army that controlled large parts of Colombia, the FARC has been hit hard during Uribe’s eight years in office with the loss of several top commanders and a stream of desertions under military pressure.
But the rebel group is still a capable force in some rural areas. In December a rebel commando unit kidnapped and killed the governor of Caqueta province and last month rebels killed nine marines during a raid on a guerrilla camp.
Security has improved under Uribe and kidnappings and bombings are rarer. The FARC now mainly relies on ambushes and improvised landmines to harass army patrols while trafficking in cocaine to finance its operations.