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Protesters Ask for Release of All Hostages in Colombia

  • Manuel Rueda

Colombia has the world's highest kidnapping rate, and in the past 10 years more than 3,000 Colombians have been kidnapped by rebel groups, paramilitaries and common criminals, who use their victims for economic or political gains. Manuel Rueda reports thousands of Colombians took to the streets in the nation's capital on Friday to ask for the release of all hostages.

The protests were sparked by recent news of the critical health condition of French-Colombian hostage Ingrid Betancourt, the presidential candidate who was kidnapped by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in 2002.

She is reportedly suffering from Hepatitis B, malnourished and unwilling to live. She is one of at least 700 hostages being held by the FARC in secret jungle camps. Three Americans are among them.

The FARC is Latin America's oldest guerrilla group. They have fought the Colombian state for over 40 years, and they sometimes kidnap civilians for economic and political purposes.

In Colombia's capital of Bogota on Friday, protesters called on the FARC to release all hostages.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe is not known for making deals with the FARC guerrillas, which he considers a terrorist group. But last week he signed a decree that would allow Colombian courts to release imprisoned guerrillas in exchange for Betancourt and other political hostages.

The FARC rebels however are seeking political recognition, and they have rejected the president's proposal, saying that there will be no more hostage releases.

As the bartering between the government and the FARC continues, hundreds of Colombians are waiting to hear from their kidnapped relatives.

Isabel Quiroz comes from southwestern Colombia, her brother, a farmer, was kidnapped by the guerrillas seven years ago.

She said these humanitarian negotiations are being made on behalf of policemen, politicians and people from high society, but the government is not looking out for the poor people.

Quiroz believes that the government is not likely to negotiate her brother's freedom, but she was glad she came to the demonstration.

Protests like this one she says, are her only chance of being heard.

France has sent a medical team to Colombia in an effort to provide treatment for Betancourt. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told Associated Press television that President Nicolas Sarkozy is ready to travel to Colombia with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to help win Betancourt's release.

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