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Cablegate: Colombia Touts Heroic Rescue Success of Hostages

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id: 160804
date: 7/3/2008 23:08
refid: 08BOGOTA2425
origin: Embassy Bogota
classification: UNCLASSIFIED
destination: 08BOGOTA2406
header:
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FM AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
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INFO RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS PRIORITY 0680
RUEHLP/AMEMBASSY LA PAZ JUL 9539
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RUEHGL/AMCONSUL GUAYAQUIL PRIORITY 4485
RHMFISS/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL PRIORITY
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA PRIORITY 1552
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----------------- header ends ----------------

UNCLAS BOGOTA 002425

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PTER PREL PREF PHUM FR CO SP
SUBJECT: COLOMBIA TOUTS HEROIC RESCUE SUCCESS OF HOSTAGES

REF: BOGOTA 2406

-------
Summary:
-------

1. President Uribe touted the successful July 2 military
rescue mission of the three Americans, Ingrid Betancourt, and
eleven members of the Colombia security forces. He called on
the FARC to release the remaining hostages and seek peace.
The operation - planned for months - incurred no casualties
and also resulted in the capture of First Front commander
Gerardo Antonio Aguilar (Cesar) and Alexander Farfan (Enrique
Gafas). Freed presidential candidate Ingrid Betnacourt
called it a "perfect operation." Local politicians and
analysts predict the operation will be a "mortal blow"
against the FARC and boost Uribe's popularity ratings even
higher. End Summary.

2. At a late evening press conference on July 2 with the
freed hostages and military officials, President Uribe
praised Colombian security forces involved in the rescue as
"heroes of humanity." He said the operation - planned for
months - showed the military's respect for human rights. He
called on the FARC to release the 25 political hostages and
700 other hostages that it continues to hold and urged the
group to seek peace. Army Commander General Mario Montoya
said the operation was risky and could have "made fools of
ourselves" but ultimately worked like clockwork. He said
Colombian military intelligence's "infiltration" of the
FARC's communications was instrumental to the operation's
success.

3. Colombian press reported that at 1:13 pm on July 2,
Colombian military (Colmil) helicopters landed near a FARC
camp 70 kilometers south of San Jose del Guaviare. Six
soldiers and two pilots, disguised as international aid
workers, told First Front commander Cesar and Enrique Gafas
that they would be escorted to another location to meet FARC
senior commander Alfonso Cano. The fifteen
hostages--accompanied by the two FARC commanders--boarded the
helicopter. Once the helicopter was airborne, Colombian
military intelligence personnel overpowered the two FARC and
identified themselves to the hostages. Ingrid Betancourt
said the helicopter "almost fell from the sky as the hostages
jumped with joy. "Operation Jacque" (meaning checkmate in
Spanish) lasted 22 minutes until Cesar and Gafas were seized
- without a single casualty. At 5:08 pm, the hostages arrived
at Catam military base in Bogota.

--------------------------------------------- ---
Ingrid Betancourt Calls It a "Perfect" Operation
--------------------------------------------- ---

4. At her first press conference following the rescue,
Ingrid Betancourt called the operation "perfect" and thanked
President Uribe, the Colombian military, and French president
Nicolas Sarkozy. She acknowledged the efforts of Ecuadorian
President Rafael Correa and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez
to achieve her freedom, but she insisted that they "must
respect Colombian democracy." Betancourt said Uribe's
reelection in 2006 was key to maintaining the military
pressure on the FARC which led to her liberation, noting the
FARC had exploited previous changes of government to rebuild
its military capacity. She repeatedly praised the Colombian
military, identifying herself as a soldier, and said "this
army will take us to peace." Betancourt also called on FARC
leaders Alfonso Cano and Mono Jojoy not to punish her guards,
adding that they were deceived in the operation.

--------------------
International Praise
--------------------

5. French President Sarkozy lauded the rescue alongside
Betancourt's children in Paris, thanked President Uribe, and
reiterated the GOF's offer to provide asylum to FARC members
who "renounced the armed struggle." President Chavez said
"the time for rifles is gone" and voiced his willingness to
work to obtain the release of more hostages and to achieve
peace in Colombia. OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza
said, "this is the most important Colombian government
success in the struggle to pacify its country, not only
because of the freeing of the hostages but because Colombia
is closer to a real peace." Interpol's Secretary General
called the operation a key turning point in the fight against
terrorism in the region. Spanish Foreign Minister Moratinos
echoed that the FARC is in a "weakened state without leaders
and without the possibility of a military way out."

-------------------
Domestic Jubilation
-------------------

6. The Colombian public was ecstatic over the operation's
success. Local security analyst Alfredo Rangel described the
operation as a "mortal blow for the FARC" and predicted that
it would further Uribe's already high approval ratings to
sky-high levels. Catholic Bishops Conference President
Augusto Castro called the operation a triumph for President
Uribe and Colombia's military, while opposition Liberal Party
presidential candidate Rafael Pardo noted that the operation
freed Uribe from international pressure to negotiate a
humanitarian exchange accord with the FARC. The opposition
Polo Democratico Party issued a communique welcoming the
"liberation of the hostages, and urging the "insurgent groups
to reflect on the sterility of the armed struggle."
BROWNFIELD

=======================CABLE ENDS============================

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