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Colombia's FARC Rebels Blame Government for Hostage Deaths

Colombian honor guards carry the coffins of four members of the security forces during their funeral at Bogota's cathedral, November 29, 2011. Colombian FARC rebels executed four members of the security forces during a botched mission to free them from a

Colombia's main rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) is blaming the government for the deaths of four security force members held captive by the rebel group for more than a decade.

A FARC statement Tuesday claims the four men were among a group of hostages the guerrillas had planned to release soon as a goodwill gesture. FARC says the captives were instead killed during a military mission aimed at preventing the group from carrying out the release.

Colombia's government said Saturday that the FARC executed the three policemen and one soldier when the military arrived to try to free them.

Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon said the hostages were shot - three in the head and one in the back. Among them was the longest-held captive, Sergeant Major Jose Libio Martinez, who was seized by the rebels almost 14 years ago.

A fifth hostage ran into the woods and was rescued by soldiers.

Human Rights Watch said in a statement Monday the killings constitute a war crime, and show the guerrilla group's "blatant disregard for human life."

A funeral for the four men was held Tuesday at the national cathedral in the capital, Bogota.

The deaths took place less than two weeks after FARC rebels named Timoleon Jimenez, better known as Timochenko, as their new leader.

Timochenko replaced former FARC leader Alfonso Cano, who was killed November 4 in a battle with government troops. Cano had led the group since 2008.

FARC rebels have been at war with the Colombian government since the 1960s, funded mainly through cocaine trafficking and extortion. The leftist rebels are believed to be holding at least a dozen members of the security forces for ransom or political leverage.

FARC has been designated as a terrorist organization by Colombia, the United States and the European Union.