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Colombian rebels to free police and soldier

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 2, 2013 at 7:51 pm •  Published: February 2, 2013

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — Colombia's main leftist rebel group said Saturday it plans to free two police officers and a soldier it recently took prisoner. Their capture amid a surge in violence had cast a pall over peace talks to end a half-century-old conflict.

The police officers were seized Jan. 25 while on an intelligence mission in the southwestern state of Cauca, and the soldier was captured this past week in the adjacent southern region of Narino in the same place four soldiers were killed in combat.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, announced on its website Saturday that it would free all three prisoners together. It did not set a date.

The International Red Cross said it had received a FARC request to intermediate.

As a condition for initiating secret talks that led to negotiations now going on in Cuba, the FARC announced a year ago that it would no longer use kidnapping as a funding source. But on Tuesday, it insisted in a communique that it had every right to take security force members prisoners in combat. Analysts differed on whether the Cuba talks might be in jeopardy.

The rebels declared a two-month unilateral cease-fire when formal peace talks began, but it lapsed on Jan. 20. The FARC had urged the government to join the cease-fire, but President Juan Manuel Santos has refused.

Santos argues that agreeing to a cease-fire would give the FARC the opportunity to regroup, as it did during failed 1999-2002 talks when it was granted a Switzerland-sized safe haven.

On Wednesday, as the Cuba talks were about to resume after a break, chief government negotiator Humberto de la Calle said there was little point in talking if the FARC was going to start "kidnapping" soldiers and police again.

Santos also lashed out, saying he had no intention of "normalizing or humanizing this war." He was alluding to the government's rejection of FARC demands for a prisoner swap. Having failed at that strategy, the rebels last April released what they said was their last group of 10 security force members.

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