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Colombia Hostages Killed in Rescue Attempt - 2003-05-06

Colombian officials say leftist rebels executed 10 hostages Monday, including a provincial governor and a former defense minister, during a rescue attempt by the army. As Auria Aguilar-Makki reports, the hostage deaths could hamper a possible agreement to exchange hostages for jailed leftist rebels.

Military officials said the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia known as “FARC”, killed Antioquia’s Governor Guillermo Gaviria, former Defense Minister Gilberto Echeverri and eight military personnel, during a failed rescue attempt in the Colombian town of Urrao. Three other hostages escaped, although two of them were wounded.

A FARC spokesman said on a radio broadcast that the hostages had been killed in a cross-fire during the failed rescue operation.

At least one soldier who managed to escape said one of the rebels ordered the hostages killed.

The dead were among a group of 80 prisoners, including soldiers, congressmen, a former presidential candidate and three U.S. citizens, whom the rebel group wanted to exchange for jailed guerrillas.

Governor Gaviria and Former Minister Echeverri had been kidnapped by the leftist rebels in April last year, when they both lead a peaceful march in Medellin, Antioquia’s capital. Antioquia’s mayor, William Ospina, said he felt both sad and angry after hearing the news:

WILLIAM OSPINA, MAYOR OF ANTIOQUIA “They are two people who for us are fundamental in Antioquia and their loss definitely diminishes us a bit.”

Many political leaders say the hostage deaths would hinder the rebels’ search for an agreement to exchange imprisoned FARC members for hostages.

Colombian president Alvaro Uribe had previously said he was willing to negotiate what he calls a “humanitarian exchange”. However, the 50-year old leader says he will not withdraw military personnel from any area in the country in order to negotiate the agreement.

Mr. Uribe had criticized former president Andres Pastrana’s failed peace talks, in which he gave control of an area to the FARC. President Uribe also insists that any freed rebel SHOULD NOT become active in the guerrilla group.