- The Washington Times - Monday, February 2, 2009

BOGOTA (AP) | Colombia’s badly battered FARC rebels delivered three police officers and a soldier to the International Red Cross on Sunday in a mission marred by accusations of military interference.

A Brazilian military helicopter, emblazoned with the Red Cross insignia, retrieved the four hostages from a guerrilla stronghold in Colombia’s southern jungles and flew them to a provincial airport where they were met by relatives and peace activists with hugs and white daisies.

A reporter accompanying the release, Jorge Enrique Botero, said it was hounded and delayed by more than two hours of military overflights that he said were “notorious, abundant and repetitive … for more than two hours.”

“They were flying in circles. There were several types of airplanes conducting the flights and this of course caused enormous nervousness, not just among us but also among the people of the FARC,” Mr. Botero said at the Villavicencio airport in Colombia’s eastern plains. He said that he would provide audio and video evidence.

The government’s peace commissioner, Luis Carlos Restrepo, called the allegations “baseless.” He said authorities honored an agreement with the Red Cross for no military flights beneath 20,000 feet during the liberation. Mr. Botero did not say how high he thought the airplanes were flying.

Captured by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia in 2007, the four security-force members freed Sunday are among six hostages the FARC pledged to liberate unconditionally this week. The other two, the only Colombian politicians thought to still be in rebel hands, have been held far longer.

Analysts consider the releases - the guerrillas’ first in nearly a year - a goodwill gesture. However, chances for a peace dialogue with Colombia’s government remain far off. Sunday’s alleged military interference was only apt to complicate matters.

A guerrilla commander who identified himself as Jairo Martinez, speaking to the Venezuelan television network Telesur, accused the military of killing a rebel in his unit in combat on Sunday morning.

Mr. Restrepo did not directly deny the allegation, but said, “We are accustomed to the lies of the FARC.”

The Western Hemisphere’s last rebel army announced this week’s releases on Dec. 21 in response to a plea from Colombian intellectuals.

President Alvaro Uribe has resisted FARC attempts to negotiate a prisoner swap and last month accused the rebels of “deceiving the country with talk of peace.”

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