Relatives of Colombians and Americans kidnapped by Marxist rebels in Colombia are urging the U.S. and Colombian governments to do more to win the hostages' release. The family members say both countries are turning a blind-eye to the problem.
The family members, joined by international policy analysts, say they want to draw attention to the three thousand people believed to be held hostage by Colombia's largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
At a news conference in Washington, they called on the Colombian and U.S. governments to vigorously pursue peace talks with the 17,000-member FARC, saying the stand-off between the two sides is perpetuating the country's civil war and keeping hostages from their families.
One such hostage is American Marc Gonsalves. He was one of three U.S. Defense Department contractors kidnapped in southern Colombia in 2003, when their surveillance plane crash-landed while doing reconnaissance on drug crops. FARC rebels executed a Colombian army sergeant and a fourth American who were also on board the flight.
Mr. Gonsalves' mother, Jo Rosano, says she feels like she is being ignored as she pleads for her son's release. "Why do I have to fight? Why not the government? Because they don't care. They would rather see this go away…they would rather see me go away, so they wouldn't hear about it anymore," she said.
The Bush administration has listed FARC as a terrorist organization, and has called for the unconditional release of all of its prisoners. President Bush has also praised Colombian President Alvaro Uribe for what he calls Colombia's commitment to fighting terrorism, which has included a military crackdown on the guerrilla group.
But, Angela Giraldo, whose brother Francisco was one of 12 state legislators kidnapped in Cali, Colombia in 2002, is calling on Bogota to adopt a humanitarian accord with FARC. The accord would include steps towards disarmament as well as prisoner exchanges. Speaking through an interpreter, she said such an accord has wide-ranging support, but is not being taken seriously by rebels or President Uribe.
"Both President Uribe and the guerrillas use the humanitarian accord for political gain, while they are playing with lives of the kidnapped and the feelings of the family members," she added.
In the past, President Uribe has been hesitant to agree to prisoner exchanges with the FARC. For its part, FARC says their captives are "prisoners of war" that will only be freed in a prisoner swap with Bogota.