FARC releases last captive Colombian politician
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FARC rebels freed Sigifredo Lopez on Thursday after holding the Colombian lawmaker hostage for over seven years. The release was the last of three such handovers by the leftist guerrilla this week.
Sigifredo Lopez, who was kidnapped from a state assembly building in 2002, was the last politician in FARC hands and the recent releases have fueled speculation rebels want to gain political ground after a year of military defeats.
Lopez's return could reveal more details about 11 other deputies who were captured with him but killed in 2007 in what the government says was cross-fire between two guerrilla units.
Rebels handed Lopez over to a delegation that flew by helicopter into Colombia's remote jungles to pick him up, a spokesman for the Red Cross said.
Rebels freed four members of the armed forces and a former governor this week. Analysts say the FARC is seeking more maneuvering room with the handovers, but talks to end the insurgency appear distant.
Lopez, 45, was snatched during a daring raid by guerrillas posing as soldiers and police who were searching for a bomb at the assembly in Cali city center. Rebels bundled the kidnap victims onto a bus and spirited them into the mountains.
Where it once controlled large parts of Colombia, the FARC has been battered by President Alvaro Uribe's U.S.-financed security campaign. Three top commanders died last year and rebel ranks have been sapped by growing desertions.
But the FARC -- Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia -- remains a force in some rural areas where state presence is weak and rebels were blamed for two recent urban bombings that killed four people.
The FARC says it wants to swap around 20 captive police and soldiers in a deal for jailed fighters. But the government and guerrillas are deadlocked over terms for the exchange.
The rebels have insisted on Uribe pulling troops back from an area roughly the size of New York City as a safe haven to guarantee talks over swapping hostages as a first step toward peace negotiations.
Wary of past failures to broker deals with the FARC, Uribe refuses rebel conditions. He says that would allow them to regroup in an area key to arms and drug trafficking, but he has offered a smaller zone under international observation.