(AFP) – Jan 14, 2008
WASHINGTON (AFP) — Washington rejected Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's call for the international community to stop branding Colombia's Marxist rebels terrorists, amid news of the leftists' apparent seizure of six more hostages Monday.
"You'll excuse me if we don't take that advice," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.
"Look, they earned their way on to the terrorism list," McCormack said, noting that FARC continues to hold many hostages, including three Americans, despite their release of two Colombian politicians last week.
"If there is any reason whatsoever to take a group off the terrorism list, then that's done," McCormack said. "But I'm not aware of any substantial change in a pattern of behavior by the FARC that would merit their being taken off the list."
Chavez last week described the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) as legitimate armies with political goals that must be respected and urged governments to remove the terror label.
McCormack said the United States remains concerned about the three Americans hostages, contractors in anti-drug operations who were captured by FARC after their plane was shot down in 2003.
"They should be released, unconditionally, so that they can be reunited with their families," McCormack said. "There's no reason on Earth to hold those people."
The head of the US military, Admiral Michael Mullen, said Chavez's proposal would not help Latin America.
"I'm honestly not surprised by that support," Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters after a visit to the headquarters of the US Southern Command in Miami.
"I don't think it is helpful long-term for building the kind of stability that we need to see in this part of the world," Mullen said.
Chavez, who was an intermediary in the release of the two Colombian women last Thursday, said afterwards that the guerrilla groups had legitimate national programs.
They "are not any terrorist body, they are real armies that occupy territory in Colombia," Chavez said. "They must be recognized, they are insurgent forces that have a political project ... which here is respected."
But Colombian President Alvaro Uribe flatly rejected the call, which came amid news of six new kidnap victims in northwestern Colombia possibly by leftist FARC guerrillas.
Among the six taken were Onshuus Nino Alf, who holds both Colombian and Norwegian nationality, and his biologist wife Maria Serrano. Also seized were an engineering student, a teacher, a businessman and hotel owner.
Also on Monday, former Colombian hostage Consuelo Gonzalez returned to Bogota following her release last week by Marxist rebels who held her in the jungle for six years.
Gonzalez, 57, had been in Venezuela since Thursday when the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) handed her and Colombian politician Clara Rojas, 44, to the Venezuelan government and Red Cross.
"I want to tell the Colombian people that I am enormously moved about returning free to my homeland," she said in a brief news conference at the airport here accompanied by her two daughters.
"I bring a message of love from my friends who remained captive in the jungle," she said. "A message of hope, faith and confidence. A message that will help us gather all the country's forces to reach a common strategy for the release of the hostages."
Gonzalez, who was kidnapped in September 2001, said the hostages hope that the government and FARC can finally agree on exchanging some 40 hostages for 500 rebels held in Colombian prisons.
Her fellow former hostage Rojas had returned home from Venezuela Sunday for an emotional reunion with her three-year-old son Emmanuel, who was born in captivity and taken away from her by the rebels when he was just eight months old.
Rojas was managing the presidential campaign of Franco-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt when the two were seized by the rebels in February 2002. Betancourt remains captive.
The Colombian government believes the FARC hold a total of about 750 hostages, and the group is suspected of kidnapping six more people, including a Norwegian-Colombian, on Sunday in northwestern Colombia.
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