- The Washington Times - Friday, July 6, 2007

From combined dispatches

BOGOTA, Colombia — Hundreds of thousands of Colombians took to the streets yesterday to show outrage at last week’s news that 11 provincial politicians had been killed while being held hostage by Marxist rebels.

Demanding freedom for other kidnapping victims, including French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt and three U.S. defense contractors, they marched in small towns and cities. There were similar protests in other Latin American countries, France, Spain and the United States, organizers said.

Public employees were given the day off to participate. They clamored for a hostage swap, but the government and Colombia’s main rebel group appeared far away from starting talks that might lead to an exchange.

“Marching is a way to unite for the freedom of the kidnap victims rather than acting as an isolated chorus, singing sadly,” said Colombian music star Juanes, who planned to march in his home town of Medellin.

“The only way to negotiate peace is with those who have done wrong. If we have to sit down and negotiate with them then we have to,” he said.

Mrs. Betancourt was captured during her 2002 presidential campaign. U.S. defense contractors Thomas Howes, Keith Stansell and Marc Gonsalves were taken by the rebels during a 2003 drug-eradication mission.

Despite pressure to swap these and other hostages for guerrillas held in government jails, President Alvaro Uribe stiffened his refusal to grant guerrilla demands to establish a New York City-sized rural zone with no government troops where an exchange could be negotiated.

“We cannot accept safe-haven zones and we cannot accept rebels being released from prison only to go back to killing people,” Mr. Uribe said.

Yesterday’s edition of the leading daily El Tiempo was wrapped in a supplement page with the headline “Solidarity Breaks the Chains.” It featured the names in fine print of thousands of kidnapping victims still being held throughout the country.

Last week the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, said 11 provincial politicians held for more than five years had been killed in the crossfire when an unidentified military group attacked its secret jungle prison.

Mr. Uribe shocked his supporters last month by releasing FARC leader Rodrigo Granda from prison at the urging of French President Nicholas Sarkozy, in a bid to start negotiations.

Once out of jail, Granda refused to cooperate.

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