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Colombia Rebel Group May Swap POWs

May 11, 1998

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ In an unprecedented move, Colombia’s leading rebel group has offered to exchange 66 captive soldiers and police officers for some of its jailed leaders.

``We want to exchange prisoners of war,″ Raul Reyes, an official of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, said in a videotaped message broadcast Saturday night by the NTC news program.

``The jails are full of political prisoners, kidnapped by the establishment,″ Reyes said, without specifying the names or number of the rebel leaders whose release he was seeking.

President Ernesto Samper’s office rejected the proposal as ``totally unacceptable,″ saying it violates international humanitarian law as set by the Geneva Conventions.

In a statement Sunday, the presidency said that amnesties were legally possible only in cases where rebels have renounced the armed struggle. The government’s chief peace negotiator, Jose Noe Rios, said the guerrilla leaders in question were convicted of crimes including rebellion, sedition, kidnapping, extortion, murder and drug trafficking.

The rebel group, known by its Spanish initials FARC, captured 18 soldiers in a December attack on a remote mountain communications outpost. It also seized 43 soldiers when it ambushed two companies of elite counterinsurgency troops in March. It also holds five anti-narcotics police.

Last June, the rebels freed 70 captured soldiers in return for the temporary demilitarization of a huge swath of southern Colombia centered around Caguan.

Samper, who leaves office in August, has made repeated peace overtures to the FARC. But the rebel group has rejected them, calling his government illegitimate because of his alleged involvement in drug corruption.

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