Colombian rebels say they are willing to talk about peace, hostages

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Bogota_(dpa) _ The leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) said they are willing to talk about peace in the South American country and about an exchange of hostages in rebel hands for imprisoned rebels, according to a statement released Tuesday.

The statement was an answer to a letter that Colombian personalities sent FARC last month.

Politicians, former hostages, journalists and intellectuals had asked the rebels to engage in an exchange of views to pave the way for the so-called "humanitarian exchange," as a first step towards a peace process.

It is believed that FARC, which has been fighting a guerrilla war against the Colombian government for nearly 45 years, has more than 700 hostages, 28 of who are said to be "politically relevant."

The rebels intend to exchange this smaller group of politicians, police and military officers - some of whom have been held for more than 10 years - for an estimated 500 imprisoned rebels. But they have not yet reached any agreement with the Colombian government. Hundreds of other victims are being held for ransom.

"We have received with approval your September letter inviting us to explore collectively the paths to peace far from the current governmental course of perpetual war which means persisting in the impossible goal of a military solution to political, economic and social problems," FARC said in a statement dated October 16.

The letter was posted on the website of opposition Senator Piedad Cordoba, who was once a mediator in efforts to secure a prisoner swap and who also signed the earlier message to FARC.

The rebels saluted the emergence "of a current of opinion that distances itself from false triumphalism and from the parameters of the warmongering solution to the great national problems."

FARC said they would approach the dialogue with the group of personalities "without dogmatism, without sectarianism."

"Very respectfully, to reinforce this new enterprise, we suggest taking into account the declared disposition of the great majority of Latin American presidents to contribute their efforts in the process towards a humanitarian exchange and towards peace," the rebels said.

Only a few months ago, FARC were holding some 60 hostages susceptible of such exchange, including former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and three US contractors. These four and 11 military and police officers were rescued in July in what Colombian authorities have billed as an intelligence operation in which their captors were conned.

Earlier this year, former vice presidential candidate Clara Rojas and former legislators Consuelo Gonzalez, Luis Eladio Perez, Gloria Polanco, Orlando Beltran and Jorge Gechem were released by FARC.

The rebels said these releases showed their disposition to dialogue and constituted an "indisputable testimony of political will."

Sunday, former congressman Oscar Lizcano was found by the authorities, three days after he escaped from the rebels following an eight-year captivity with the help of one of his guards. dpa rr vs pr

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