Colombia: FARC rebels free 10 security forces hostages.

FARC rebels free 10 security forces hostages.

In Colombia Monday, the rebel group Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – FARC) freed ten security forces hostages, including four soldiers and six police.

According to a statement from the guerrilla, they are the last members of the armed forces still in the hands of the FARC, which had been keeping them inside jungle prison camps for as long as 14 years.

Concurrently, a new discussion surrounding the possibility of a political solution to the five-decade long conflict has emerged.

Some commentators view the event as a sign of FARC’s intention to halt the armed conflict. FARC confirmed their intention to stop ransom kidnappings as a revenue source, halting a long-lasting terror practice which deepened the rebels’ political isolation.

Others consider that the conflict is still far from its conclusion. The recent escalation of armed confrontations in Meta and Arauca suggests that the Colombian government is not receptive to beginning a dialogue with Latin America’s oldest guerrilla.

FARC unilaterally decided to release the hostages in a public statement on 26 February.

The decision followed widespread indignation after the shooting of four hostages on 26 November last year.

The killing by the FARC occurred in unclear circumstances during a Colombian military rescue operation to free the hostages.

In reaction, Colombia’s biggest media and TV news agency called for a mass peace action against all illegal armed groups on 6 December, mobilizing tens of thousands of people in various marches which took place in Colombia’s most important cities.

At the same time, civil society around the country increased its campaign for all hostages still held in prison camps to be freed.

In late February FARC responded to this request by announcing it would stop the criminal practice of kidnapping and that all political hostages would be released in hopes of showing its commitment to a negotiated peace.

However, some analysts maintain that this decision came partly as a result of serious military setbacks which have hampered the guerrilla group in recent months.

The killing of FARC commander Alfonso Cano in November last year deprived guerrilla of its historical leader.

More recently, on 26 March the Colombian army inflicted FARC a historical blow by killing almost 70 rebels in Meta and Arauca, while the FARC’s political clout in the regions of Cauca and Putumayo has been severely curtailed.

Armed with the highest technology available, the Colombian Army seems to have pinned FARC against the wall, forcing the guerrilla into brokering unstable local alliances with newly formed paramilitary groups such as the Rastrojos in cities along the Pacific coast like Tumaco.

While national media currently debate the possibility of ending the five-decade old conflict, ordinary Colombian citizens are in dire need to hear the truth about an unspecified number of civilians which have disappeared over the last fifteen years.

More specifically, questions have been raised about how many of them are still kept as hostages by the FARC and how many have died over the years.

Analysts have been speculating about the future development of FARC’s military strategy. At the heart of their concerns lies the question of how the rebels will substitute the lucrative practice of ransom kidnapping as a major source of revenue.

Will the FARC go back to political assassinations and/or attacking strategic infrastructures such as oil pipelines and roads? Certainly, the possibility of a new dialogue with the guerilla rests on the answers to these pressing questions.