REPORTING FROM BOGOTA, COLOMBIA -- Marches will be held Tuesday throughout Colombia to protest the killings by leftist rebels of four military hostages held 11 years or more, a tragedy that has provoked an outpouring of grief and outrage.
President Juan Manuel Santos reacted bitterly this week to a communique issued by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia acknowledging that on Nov. 26 the group known as FARC killed the hostages -- army Sgt. Jose Libio Martinez, police Lt. Alvaro Moreno, police Maj. Elkin Hernandez and police Col Edgar Duarte -- and blamed the government for “impeding their imminent unilateral release.”
The FARC said further that a letter from former Sen. Piedad Cordoba requesting the release of the long-held hostages was received in August and approved by the late FARC commander known by the alias Alfonso Cano before he was killed in a military operation Nov. 4.
At the time of their executions in Caqueta state during combat with an elite army unit on a rescue mission, the prisoners were being moved to an unspecified place for release, with a public announcement of the liberation “at the point of being produced,” according to the FARC statement.
“Don’t take us for idiots,” Santos said at a ceremony Wednesday honoring the armed forces. “Now the FARC says with a shameless cynicism that they extend their sympathies to our heroes’ families when it was they who kept them from them... Now the FARC says we impeded their unilateral release when it was they who gave them coup de graces behind their backs.” The FARC had threatened to execute prisoners in any rescue attempt.
Another FARC hostage, police Sgt. Luis Alberto Erazo, who was being held with the other four, survived by running into the jungle once gunfire erupted. Two rebels pursued him but he eluded them. Hours later, he emerged when he became convinced that the rebels had fled.
The government has said that the army troops who exchanged fire with the rebels were not trying to rescue them at that point, that a rescue operation would have required more soldiers. But defense minister Juan Carlos Pinzon said Saturday that the operation was launched 45 days earlier after intelligence indicated the rebel group had hostages.
Foreign governments and human rights groups have roundly condemned the rebels for the killings.
Photo: A Colombian honor guard carries the coffins of four members of the security forces, killed by FARC rebels, during their funeral service at Bogota's cathedral Nov. 29, 2011. Credit: Jose Miguel Gomez/Reuters