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American Hostages in Colombia  Do Not Want Any Rescue Attempts - 2003-09-13

Three Americans held hostage by rebels in Colombia say they do not want any attempts made to rescue them. The comments from the civilian contractors to the U.S. government were made in an interview that has revived debate over a possible prisoner swap.

A journalist interviewed the three U.S. defense contractors being held in a jungle hideout by Colombian rebels.

The three men were on an intelligence mission when their single-engine plane crash landed in rebel territory seven months ago. Commanders from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) say they are holding the Americans, and will only release them as part of a prisoner swap in return for jailed rebel leaders.

In photos made public this weekend, the men appear healthy and freshly shaved, while three rebels holding semiautomatic rifles stand guard. According to Colombian journalist Jorge Enrique Botero, who interviewed the men, they believe a rescue attempt would result in their death.

The interview raises several issues. The U.S. State Department regards the FARC as an international terrorist organization, and refuses to negotiate with the rebel army. But a rescue operation would be extremely risky and U.S. military officials say they have no idea where the men are being held.

And even if the three Americans are freed, the fate remains uncertain for 1,800 Colombians kidnapped so far this year. The FARC are also holding Ingrid Betancourt, a former presidential candidate. And some military officers have spent more than five years in captivity.

Colombia's government has suggested it may agree to a partial prisoner swap to release ailing hostages. But the government refuses to exchange innocent kidnapping victims for rebels who have committed war crimes, and a full-scale prisoner swap seems unlikely.