Colombia's leftist rebels said yesterday they would release three of the dozens of high-profile hostages they are holding as bargaining chips with the Colombian government. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) said they had ordered the release of Clara Rojas, her son Emmanuel, who was born in captivity, and Consuelo González de Perdomo.
But in a snub to President Álvaro Uribe, Farc said it would hand the hostages over to Venezuela's president Hugo Chávez who was "fired" from his role as mediator in the hostage crisis by Uribe last month.
In its statement, Farc said it would free the three "to make amends" to Chávez by heeding his call for their release and "as a show of the unquestionable hope we had placed in his role as facilitator".
Rojas was running mate to dual French-Colombian citizen and former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt when they were captured in 2002 in southern Colombia. Rojas gave birth to her son in captivity and the case of the boy raised in jungle hideouts shocked Colombians. Consuelo Gonzalez is a former lawmaker kidnapped in 2001.
Expressing some scepticism, Rojas's mother, Clara Gonzalez, said: "I hope it's true and that it can happen soon."
For Consuelo Gonzalez's daughter, Patricia Perdomo, the announcement of her release "is the best thing that could happen to us".
Political analyst Gerson Arias said: "This was calculated to happen just before Christmas and calculated to increase pressure on Uribe."
International pressure has grown in the past several months for Uribe to make concessions to Farc to allow the release of all the hostages.
Most of the hostages are army soldiers or police agents captured in guerrilla attacks on bases and towns when Farc were at the peak of their power in the late 1990s. But the politicians, especially Betancourt, and three American defence contractors captured in 2003 have received most international attention. The rebels want to swap the hostages for 500 guerrilla prisoners in Colombian jails.