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Cablegate: Uribe Announces Encirclement Plan for Hostage

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TAGS: PREL PGOV PTER VE FR SP SZ VT CO
SUBJECT: URIBE ANNOUNCES ENCIRCLEMENT PLAN FOR HOSTAGE
RELEASE

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SUMMARY
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1. (U) President Uribe announced January 26 that he has
ordered military and police to locate, and subsequently
encircle, areas where the FARC holds hostages. GOC officials
explained the move is aimed at putting "humanitarian
pressure" on the FARC to release its hostages and is not a
military rescue option. Critics say the cordon plan could
lead to a military clash and endanger the hostages' lives.
The French Government reiterated its opposition to a military
rescue, while Catholic Church officials sought clarification
of Uribe's comments. Uribe's remarks followed his European
trip, where he authorized the French, Spanish, and Swiss
governments to work with the Catholic Church to promote
humanitarian exchange talks with the FARC. END SUMMARY

---------------------------
URIBE ANNOUNCES CORDON PLAN
---------------------------

2. (U) At a January 26 press conference, President Uribe
said he ordered the military and police to pinpoint and
surround locations where the FARC is holding hostages. Once
located, he would seek the participation of the international
community to press the FARC to release of hostages. Uribe
said he first issued the order in June 2007 after the FARC
killed eleven former Valle de Cauca legislators it held
hostage. Uribe's statement followed his European tour where
he authorized France, Spain, and Switzerland to work with the
Catholic Church to facilitate humanitarian talks FARC. The
FARC responded by accusing the GOC of "doubletalk" and
"disrespect for human life," emphasizing that a military
rescue operation would only end in bloodshed.

3. (U) Minister of Defense Santos, currently in France,
explained that GOC's intention is to support the Church plan
and efforts by France, Spain, and Switzerland to achieve a
humanitarian exchange. Meanwhile, if information on the
location of hostages surfaces, the encirclement plan can be
used to engage the international community in place of a
military operation. Presidential advisor Jose Obdulio
Gaviria said the cordon option is designed to put
"humanitarian pressure" on the FARC, not to achieve a
military rescue. In additional efforts to debilitate the
FARC, the GOC offered USD 2.5 million rewards for each FARC
leader arrested and announced a most-wanted poster campaign
to target FARC members.

-----------------------------
CONCERNS ABOUT HOSTAGE SAFETY
-----------------------------

5. (U) The GOC's announcement sparked speculation about its
commitment to a humanitarian accord and concern for the
hostages' safety. Some hostage family members criticized the
plan, saying it would endanger the hostages and reduce the
possibility of a humanitarian accord. Former hostage
Consuelo Gonzalez de Perdomo, released by the FARC on January
10, warned any attempt to surround or rescue hostages could
put them in serious danger. Claudia Rugeles, wife of former
governor and FARC hostage Alan Jara, released two paragraphs
from her husband's letter in January to prove the unviability
of the plan. Jara wrote that a "rescue has no hope of
success. If they bomb us, we'll die from above, if they come
near us, they'll kill us on the ground. Whether the bullets
are 'good' or 'bad,' there is still only death."

6. (U) The French government reiterated its position that
no operation take place that could possibly endanger the
hostages. Monsignor Luis Augusto Castro, chairman of the
Episcopal Conference, called for the GOC to explain its
proposal further so the Church could evaluate its own
facilitation efforts. Congressman James McGovern - who
visited Colombia in mid January - also voiced concern on
January 29 that using a cordon to force a humanitarian accord
would be a "mistake."
Brownfield

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