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Colombia rebels reject prisoner-swap talks
(Colombia)
Updated: 2006-01-01 11:39

The country's main rebel group has rejected a proposal from European nations to meet with Colombia's government to discuss swapping jailed rebels for hostages, including three Americans.

A group of facilitators from France, Switzerland and Spain proposed in mid-December that the two sides meet in a village in southwest Colombia, and demilitarize a 110-square-mile area surrounding the talks. Colombian President Alvaro Uribe accepted the plan.

But Raul Reyes, leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, said late Friday that his group would hold firm to a demand that Colombia's military clear out of an area more than four times the size proposed by the European nations.

The FARC's rejection is a blow to dozens of families who were optimistic about the European proposal.

A prisoner exchange would likely include the FARC freeing about 60 hostages including politicians, military personnel and the Americans for imprisoned guerrillas.

The captured Americans Tom Howes, Marc Gonsalves and Keith Stansell have been held since February 2003, when their small plane crashed in a FARC stronghold in southern Colombia while on an anti-drug mission for the U.S. Defense Department.

The FARC is a 12,000-strong force that has been fighting the Colombian government for more than four decades to establish a Marxist-style state. It is also heavily involved in drug trafficking and kidnapping for ransom.



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