Friday, July 04, 2008

FARC leaders were paid millions to free hostages: Swiss radio

[Thanks to Kevin for this link]

PARIS (Thomson Financial) Leaders of the Colombian FARC rebel movement were paid millions of dollars to free Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt and 14 other hostages, Swiss radio said on Friday, quoting 'a reliable source'. The 15 hostages released on Wednesday by the Colombian army 'were in reality ransomed for a high price, and the whole operation afterwards was a set-up,' the radio's French-language channel said. Saying the United States, which had three of its citizens among those freed, was behind the deal, it put the price of the ransom at some $20 million. The radio said its source was 'close to the events, reliable and tested many times in recent years.' The report added said the wife of one of the hostages' guards was the go-between, having been arrested by the Colombian army. She was released to return to the guerrillas, where she persuaded her husband to change sides. Switzerland, along with France and Spain, has been mediating with the FARC on behalf of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. According to the official version of Wednesday's operation, a Colombian army intelligence agent infiltrated the FARC and tricked the rebels into believing their top leader had sent a helicopter to pick up the hostages. Colombian soldiers posing as FARC guerrillas flew the hostages from a jungle hideout where they had been assembled before revealing their identity. White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the rescue 'was conceived by the Colombians and executed by the Colombians with our full support,' while implying that Washington had provided intelligence and even operational help. U.S. ambassador to Bogota William Brownfield also told CNN that Washington had provided 'technical support,' while Colombian Defence Minister Juan Manuel Santos insisted it was a '100 percent Colombian' effort. The top U.S. military officer for Latin America, Admiral Jim Stavridis, head of United States Southern Command, said the rescue of Americans Thomas Howes, Marc Gonsalves and Keith Stansell had been 'a priority of this command'. The three were seized by the rebels as they conducted an anti-drug mission for the Pentagon in February 2003. The operation enhanced Uribe's prestige as he seeks a third term in office, and enabled him to stick to his line of no talks with the rebels without the hostages being freed, the radio noted

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