January 8,2008

Police officer dead as rebel captive
BOGOTA – Capt. Julián Ernesto Guevara Castro, a Colombian national police force officer captured in 1998 by leftist rebels, died in captivity three weeks ago, a group representing hostages’ relatives said Wednesday.

The 39-year-old Guevara was taken prisoner by Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas on Nov. 1, 1998, during an attack on the southeastern city of Mitu, the capital of Vaupes province, in which 64 other members of the security forces were captured.

Marleny Orjuela, president of the Asfamipaz organization of relatives of rebel hostages, said the officer’s death was reported by a source close to the FARC.
Orjuela said Guevara died last month from an undisclosed illness, and she urged his kidnappers to turn over the officer’s remains for burial.
Asfamipaz and the officer’s family asked the Red Cross for help in recovering his remains.
Orjuela told reporters that the “sad news” should spur the government and the FARC to “reach a humanitarian agreement that will put an end to the drama of the kidnapped and their families.”
According to the government, the FARC has kidnapped some 1,000 people. Some human rights groups, however, put the number at 3,000 to 5,000.
The FARC is currently holding hundreds of hostages, including a group of 59 the guerrillas deem “exchangeable” – 22 politicians, 34 soldiers and police and three U.S. citizens – that the rebels hope to trade for some 500 imprisoned fighters.
The most high-profile hostage being held by the rebels is former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, who was abducted by the FARC in the southern part of this Andean nation Feb. 23, 2002, as her long-shot Green Oxygen Party campaign for the presidency was in full swing.
The 44-year-old politician, who studied political science in Paris and holds dual French-Colombian na-tionality, was kidnapped along with her vice-presidential running mate, Clara Rojas, as they were traveling through the former demilitarized zone where peace talks were held between the FARC and former President Andrés Pastrana’s administration.
A humanitarian agreement is needed to open the way for an ex-change, but the government and rebels have been unable to reach such an accord.
Journalist Carlos Lozano Guillén, editor of the communist weekly Voz, told Caracol Radio that people close to the FARC leadership confirmed Guevara’s death in the jungles of southern Colombia.
Lozano Guillén said his source told him that the other hostages, in-cluding Betancourt, were in good health and that new photos showing they were alive could be provided soon. EFE
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