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Cablegate: Hostage Escape Continues Farc's Worst Year Ever

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PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBO #3951/01 3031705
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 291705Z OCT 08
FM AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5315
INFO RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA PRIORITY 8462
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS PRIORITY 1248
RUEHPE/AMEMBASSY LIMA PRIORITY 6695
RUEHZP/AMEMBASSY PANAMA PRIORITY 2568
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS PRIORITY 1440
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RHMFISS/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL PRIORITY
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RUEAWJC/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHDC PRIORITY
RHMFISS/FBI WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

UNCLAS BOGOTA 003951

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PTER PHUM KJUS CO
SUBJECT: HOSTAGE ESCAPE CONTINUES FARC'S WORST YEAR EVER

SUMMARY
-------
1. Former congressman Oscar Lizcano, held by the
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) for eight
years, escaped from a FARC camp along with one of his captors
and turned himself into an Army checkpoint in San Jose del
Palmar (Choco) on October 26. President Uribe and Defense
Minister Santos announced that FARC member Wilson Bueno Largo
("Isaza") would receive a cash reward and asylum in France
for helping Lizcano escape. Bueno said he deserted because
Colombian military pressure had made living conditions
unbearable and called on his former colleagues to follow his
example. He condemned the FARC as a group "lacking morals and
political orientation." It is unclear if the GOC has the
legal authority to allow Lizcano--who faces serious criminal
charges--to leave Colombia. End Summary.

EX-CONGRESSMAN LIZCANO ESCAPES WITH FARC CAPTOR
--------------------------------------------- --
2. Former Conservative Party congressman Oscar Lizcano and
his Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) captor,
Wilson Bueno Largo ("Isaza") turned themselves into the
Colombian Army on October 26 after escaping from the FARC on
October 23. Colombian press reports say this is the first
known instance of a FARC member deserting with a hostage.
Lizcano, held by the FARC since August 2000, said that he and
Bueno escaped at night and wandered through the jungle for 72
hours without sleep until they came across an Army checkpoint
near the town of San Jose del Palmar (Choco). Lizcano also
said that before his escape, he and fourteen guards from the
FARC's Aurelio Rodriguez column--of which Bueno was the
commander--had been on a nearly constant march through the
jungles of Choco for the last four months due to military
pressure.

3. At a press conference on October 27, President Uribe and
Defense Minister Santos appeared onstage with Bueno,
congratulating him for his "courage" in leaving the rebels
and helping Lizcano. Uribe announced that Bueno would
receive a cash reward (later announced to be one billion
Colombian pesos, or about 419,000 USD) and political asylum
in France to protect him from FARC retaliation. Uribe added
that he hoped this would encourage other FARC members to
leave the group. Santos also said that Colombian forces over
the October 26-27 weekend had begun an operation to free
Lizcano based on information provided by a previous FARC
deserter, but that the two had escaped before the operation
was implemented.

EX-CAPTOR CITES HUNGER, FARC ISOLATION
--------------------------------------------- --
4. Bueno, who spent twelve years as a FARC combatant, said he
decided to desert and help Lizcano because of hunger and
isolation prompted by Colombian military pressure that had
severely curtailed his column's movements and supplies. He
also left to be with his girlfriend, a former FARC member who
deserted in July. Bueno publicly called on his former
comrades to follow his example, condemning the FARC as a
group "lacking morals and political orientation." He
predicted the group would soon disappear, because it was
severely reduced in numbers and morale. Bueno added that his
column had standing orders to kill Lizcano if they
encountered the Colombian military, but that he had told the
former legislator that he would protect him in such an event.


5. The Lizcano escape represents the latest in a series of
public setbacks for the FARC this year. Combined with
significant leadership losses, record levels of
desertion--approximately 2500 this year according to the
Ministry of Defense--and the well-publicized Operation Jaque,
several Colombian analysts argued that the FARC's widely
dispersed fronts are becoming increasingly isolated from one
another as the rebels' command, control, and communications
break down. Other commentators suggested that the
months-long march by Lizcano and his guards, along with
Bueno's decision to flee, indicate the FARC's Secretariat has
lost control over the group's remaining 28 "political"
hostages.

FRENCH ASYLUM REMAINS UNCERTAIN
-------------------------------
6. Local French DMC Alain Fort confirmed that the GOF is
willing to receive Bueno if his legal situation in Colombia
is resolved. In addition, Ingrid Betancourt personally
phoned Bueno and promised she would work to have the French
government accept him and his girlfriend, according to
leading daily El Tiempo. Still, it is unclear if the GOC has
the legal authority to allow Bueno--who faces potential
kidnapping and other serious human rights charges--to allow
Bueno to depart Colombia. Despite the risks of possible
retaliation from the FARC, Bueno said he is not sure whether
he would accept an offer of asylum in France.
BROWNFIELD

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