U.S. diplomat supports military rescue of kidnapped Americans in Colombia

A top U.S. official said Wednesday that America supports the military rescue of three kidnapped U.S. defense contractors in Colombia, even as families of other hostages say such an operation could endanger the lives of their loved ones.

"We have a lot of confidence in the government and the security services here in finding a way to free the hostages and we want to work together to achieve this," said Thomas Shannon, U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, in a news conference in the capital of Bogota.

President Alvaro Uribe advocates military rescues to free hostages held by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. However, almost all the families of those kidnapped oppose such missions, fearing their loved ones will be killed in a crossfire or by the rebels.

"This is a way of death for the hostages," said Jo Rosano, mother of Marc Gonsalves, who was kidnapped four years ago while on an intelligence mission over the jungles of southern Colombia.

The hostages "were told when first captured if a search and rescue mission came they would be killed on the spot," said Rosano, referring to a video the FARC released of the three Americans in July 2003 — the only proof that the men are alive.

The FARC is demanding that the Colombian government release all of their imprisoned comrades — including two rebels extradited to the United States — in exchange for the release of 62 high-profile hostages.

They include the three Americans — Gonsalves, Keith Stansell and Thomas Howes — and former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt.

Uribe has said the rebels' demands, including the demilitarization of a chunk of territory for official negotiations, are excessive and that armed rescues are the only solution.

A Dec. 31 military attack on a rebel camp in northern Colombia allowed former Cabinet minister Fernando Araujo to escape, ending six years in captivity and reopening the debate over how to free hostages.

In the past, however, military rescues have led rebels to kill hostages.

[Fuente: Associated Press, Bogota, Col, 31Jan07]

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