Sunday, 30 November 2014

Colombian rebels free captured general...........

BOGOTA, Colombia: Colombia's largest rebel group has freed an army general and two others whose capture led President Juan Manuel Santos to suspend peace talks. 

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia handed over Gen Ruben Alzate and his companions — an army captain and military lawyer — to a humanitarian mission led by the International Red Cross early Sunday morning. 

Alzate was the highest-ranking military officer captured by the rebels in 50 years of fighting and the incident immediately plunged into crisis peace talks taking place in Cuba. Determined not to scuttle two years of slow but steady progress, the rebels dispatched from Havana one of their top commanders, a member of the ruling secretariat known by his alias Pastor Alape, to oversee the handover deep inside the jungles of western Colombia. 

"I'm infinitely happy," Claudia Farfan, wife of the US-trained counterinsurgent expert, told The Associated Press after receiving a phone call from the president informing her that her husband was safe and in good health. "I can smile again." 

Santos had conditioned the resumption of peace talks on the safe return of the general's group as well as two rank-and-file soldiers taken during a firefight in a separate incident earlier this month. 

Now free, the 55-year-old counterinsurgent expert Alzate will have to answer tough questions about why he apparently violated military protocol and ventured upstream into the rebel-dominated Atrato River dressed as a civilian and without his normal security detail. 

For its part, the rebel movement is calling for an immediate redesign of the two-year-old peace process, which it says is threatened by the government's refusal to accept a bilateral cease-fire. It considers military personnel prisoners of war and has expressed disbelief that Santos' government, rather than recognize the insurgents' goodwill offer to free the captives, has drawn closer to conservative critics who see it as being too lenient with the rebels. 

"We can't let the peace process that has reached such an advanced state, where key issues are being discussed, be subject to such rushed, thoughtless actions," the rebels said in a statement from Havana.