Colombia warns it will extradite Marxist rebel unless hostages are freed

Saturday, December 18th 2004, 11:42 am
By: News On 6

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ Colombia's president says he will extradite a captured leftist rebel leader to the United States on drug-related charges if the guerrillas don't free dozens of hostages, including three Americans and a German, by year's end.

Ricardo Palmera, a top commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, would become the first member of the rebel group ever sent to face U.S. justice. A federal court in New York wants him on cocaine trafficking charges.

President Alvaro Uribe on Friday signed extradition orders for Palmera after winning Supreme Court approval, but is ready to revoke the decision if the FARC releases the hostages before Dec. 30, his office said in a statement.

Uribe issued a list of 63 captives, including politicians, soldiers, police officers, three U.S. Defense Department contractors and a German businessman.

The FARC had no immediate reaction. The group has said it will only release the hostages in exchange for hundreds of imprisoned guerrillas, Palmera among them.

Analysts found it highly unlikely the FARC would bow to Uribe's ultimatum.

``The FARC won't accept this type of deal because it would give the impression that they are giving in to government pressure,'' said Roman Ortiz, a terrorism expert at Los Andes University in Bogota.

Relatives of hostages denounced Uribe's move, saying it could prompt the FARC to retaliate with an ultimatum of its own, putting the hostages' lives in danger.

``It's inhumane that both the FARC and the government use hostages in their political and military wrestling match,'' said Angela de Perez, the wife of a Colombian senator abducted by the FARC three and half years ago.

The FARC captured Tom Howes, Marc Gonsalves and Keith Stansell in February 2003 after the Americans' small plane crash-landed in a rebel stronghold. Armed men seized German hotel owner Lothar Hintze in March 2001 in western Tolima state.

The FARC has never claimed responsibility for Hintze's kidnapping and his family always maintained he was abducted for ransom, not for political reasons.

Palmera, also known as Simon Trinidad, has been in a Colombian jail since January after being arrested in neighboring Ecuador. His lawyer recently said he was interested in becoming a negotiator in possible talks with the government over a prisoner swap.

The FARC has been battling for 40 years to topple the government and establish a Marxist-style state. The conflict kills more than 3,000 people annually. The group funds itself through drug trafficking, extortion and kidnapping.