Colombia hostage in middle of political tug of war

BOGOTA (Reuters) - The release of a Colombian soldier held for more than 11 years by Marxist guerrillas has turned into a political tug of war, with the rebels insisting that a leftist senator participate in the handover.

This undated handout TV grab released to the media on March 7, 2008 shows Colombian soldier Pablo Moncayo, who was kidnapped by FARC rebels in 1997. REUTERS/Ministry of Interior and Justice/Handout

Conservative President Alvaro Uribe, popular for his hard-line security policies, says lawmaker Piedad Cordoba is not authorized to broker the deal to free the soldier held in secret jungle camps since his 1997 capture.

But the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, said on Wednesday Cordoba must be involved if the soldier, Pablo Moncayo, is to be freed. The outspoken senator has negotiated the release of other FARC hostages, making her a national political figure rumored as a possible presidential candidate.

“The FARC trusts Cordoba, but Uribe does not want to give either the guerrillas or Cordoba the chance to profit, politically, from the release of Moncayo,” said Bogota-based analyst Pablo Casas.

“Next year is an election year and Cordoba has already raised her profile with voters by helping with previous releases,” Casas said.

The soldier’s father, Gustavo Moncayo, has led a campaign for the release of kidnap victims, draping himself in chains and walking throughout Colombia. The cocaine-financed guerrillas hold hostages for ransom and political leverage, including 22 members of the state security forces.

A statement issued by the FARC said Cordoba’s participation in Moncayo’s release was “indispensable”. Uribe says only the International Committee of the Red Cross can be involved.

Many Colombians view Cordoba with suspicion because of her alliance with Hugo Chavez, the leftist president of neighboring Venezuela. Uribe said on Wednesday the FARC had launched deadly attacks against Colombian soldiers from Venezuela and asked Chavez for help in capturing rebels hiding in his country.

Uribe has often clashed with his Venezuelan counterpart.

The Colombian leader was elected in 2002 on promises of smashing the FARC, which killed his father in a botched 1983 kidnapping attempt. Congress changed the constitution to allow him to be re-elected in 2006 and allied lawmakers are pushing for another change in law to allow him to run for a third term in 2010.

Reporting by Hugh Bronstein; editing by Mohammad Zargham