A Colombian army general was released by his rebel captors Sunday in a remote northwestern jungle, setting the scene for a resumption of peace talks that were halted after insurgents captured the commander two weeks earlier.
President Juan Manuel Santos announced early Sunday over his Twitter account that Gen. Ruben Dario Alzate had been released “in perfect condition” along with two other hostages. Units of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, better known as FARC, captured them Nov. 16, a day after the two-year mark of peace talks in Havana.
The general’s daughter, Maria Paula Alzate, confirmed to Colombian TV reporters that her father had been freed.
“We are on our way to celebrate Mass to offer our thanks to God,” she told Cable Noticias. The general made no immediate comment or public appearance Sunday morning. He was set to be flown to the capital, Bogota, for a medical examination at a military hospital and a reunion with his family.
In an interview with Venezuela’s state-owned Telesur network, FARC commander Ivan Marquez said another rebel commander, Pastor Alape, participated in the release. Marquez thanked the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Cuban and Norwegian governments for their intervention.
Speaking from Havana, where peace talks have been held since November 2012, Marquez called on the Colombian government to agree to a cease-fire to avoid similar incidents that threaten the peace talks. The Colombian government so far has rejected that request, arguing that during abortive 1999-2002 peace talks, the rebels used a cease-fire to improve their military position.
There was no immediate word from either side about when peace talks might resume. Just before Alzate’s kidnapping, Santos and chief government negotiator Humberto De la Calle complained that rebel intransigence in negotiating peace terms was threatening the process.
Representatives of the Red Cross received Alzate as well as army Capt. Jorge Rodriguez and civilian attorney Gloria Urrego in a remote area on the Atrato River in Choco province, in the northwest of Colombia, according to media reports.
The three were captured by the FARC as they visited a community energy project in Las Mercedes, a village about 25 miles northwest of the regional capital of Quibdo. They had traveled there by boat.
The general, who commands a joint task force in the region, was wearing civilian clothing and was without his security detail at the time of his capture. A soldier who was traveling with the general managed to escape, alerting the government to the kidnapping.
The night of the general's capture, Santos announced he was suspending the two-year-long peace talks with the FARC until the rebels released their prisoners. Days later, rebel negotiators in Havana announced that they would soon release them, a sign that analysts interpreted as the rebels’ commitment to the talks.
The kidnapping triggered a massive search and rescue mission in the jungle region adjacent to the Panamanian isthmus.
On Wednesday, the FARC released two other soldiers, Paulo Cesar Rivera and Jhonathan Andres Diaz, who had been captured Nov. 6 in eastern Arauca province. The Red Cross also assisted in that handover.
Kraul is a special correspondent