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US Urges Colombian Rebels to Release American Hostages - 2003-10-09

A Bush administration official is calling for leftist rebels in Colombia to immediately release three Americans held hostage since February.

The director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, John Walters, says the United States is "extremely concerned" about the hostages. He says his heart goes out to the families of the three men, Marc Gonsalves, Thomas Howes, and Keith Stansell.

But Mr. Walters insists that the United States will not give in to demands by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC, to secure their release.

"We will not negotiate in this case," he said. "We will not negotiate in any other case. We hold those who hold them responsible. ... We have made that clear to them. And the Colombian government has made that clear to them. ... And I believe the record of the United States in bringing people who do this to justice is unprecedented. Turn 'em loose, now."

The rebels kidnapped the three Department of Defense contractors on February 13, after their surveillance plane crash-landed in southern Colombia. The guerrillas executed two other people on the plane.

The militants say they will only release the men, who they call "prisoners of war," in exchange for the release of some of their own members. The State Department has designated the group a terrorist organization.