December 24, 2007 / 8:24 PM / in 11 years

Colombia grandma wants hostages free for Christmas

(Recasts, adds comments from family of hostages)

By Hugh Bronstein

BOGOTA, Dec 24 (Reuters) - Clara de Rojas, mother and grandmother to two rebel-held hostages set for release after years of Colombian jungle captivity, hopes to be reunited with them for Christmas.

There was no word on Monday about the time or place of the handover of her daughter, former vice presidential candidate Clara Rojas who was kidnapped in 2002, and grandson Emmanuel, fathered in captivity by a guerrilla fighter.

But the rebels said earlier this month they had ordered the Christmas release of the two along with another hostage, and a senator close to the situation predicted their liberation "very soon."

Despite "problems caused by troop movements" along the Venezuelan border where the release was expected, leftist Sen. Piedad Cordoba told reporters the hand-over of Rojas, her son and a lawmaker captured in 2001 was imminent.

The white-haired de Rojas, a 77-year-old who walks with a cane, told reporters she has Christmas presents including a small stuffed bear ready for the 3- or 4-year-old grandson she has never met.

"I’d like to say to you, the guerrillas, when you return my daughter and my beloved grandson, that’s when we can start to understand each other," de Rojas said.

"There have been a lot of injustices that need to be addressed," she added. "I have great hope."

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, has long used kidnapping in its war against the state.

Started in 1964 as a peasant army bent on closing the wide gap that separates rich and poor in this Andean country, the FARC now funds itself mostly through cocaine smuggling.

Cordoba and Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez had acted as mediators with the FARC before President Alvaro Uribe ended those talks last month, accusing Chavez of breaking protocol by talking directly to a Colombian general about the hostages.

But Chavez and Cordoba remain involved informally and the FARC says it wants to hand the three captives over to leftist firebrand Chavez or someone designated by him.

Earlier this month the rebels said they had ordered the liberation of Rojas, kidnapped during her 2002 vice-presidential campaign, Emmanuel and Consuelo Gonzalez, a lawmaker captured the year before.

OTHER HOSTAGES

The move could set the stage for the release of other kidnap victims, including three American anti-drug contractors and French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt, in exchange for guerrillas locked in government jails.

Betancourt, whose birthday is Dec. 25, was captured during her 2002 presidential campaign with Rojas as her running mate. Americans Thomas Howes, Keith Stansell and Marc Gonsalves, were captured during mission to spot illicit coca crops in 2003.

Uribe, popular for his U.S.-backed crackdown on the rebels, has offered to designate a limited safe area to swap 47 high-profile captives for rebels held in government jails.

But the FARC insists he pull troops from a larger zone of its choosing to facilitate an exchange. The rebels want to enter that zone armed, which Uribe says he will not allow.

The FARC has been pushed onto the defensive by Uribe’s military policies but it still controls wide rural areas and holds about 750 hostages for ransom and political leverage. (Editing by Cynthia Osterman)




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