Saturday, December 30, 2006

Colombian families send holiday wishes to kidnapped family members


Bogota's main plaza was awash with weekend Christmas cheer and lights, but from a tent nearby dozens of families were broadcasting somber messages of hope to relatives held hostage by rebels in Colombia's remote jungles. Mothers, sons and brothers took turns at a microphone in the makeshift radio studio to send Christmas greetings they hoped would reach victims kidnapped by Marxist guerrillas fighting a four-decade war. Prayers mixed with music and family anecdotes during Saturday's early hours broadcast of "Voices of Kidnapping", a program transmitted across Colombia each week with Radio Caracol presenter Herbin Hoyos, himself a kidnap survivor.

"Daddy, the most important thing is that you stay well and try to keep up your spirits," said Liliana Bustos, whose father, Hernan, was kidnapped more than six years ago. Though we have no news from you, we will always be here."

Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe, one of Washington's closest allies, has cracked down on the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, in a U.S.-backed drive to end their insurgency. Violence and kidnapping have decreased but the FARC, Colombia's largest rebel group, is still fighting. After ending efforts to reach out to the guerrillas earlier this year following several attacks, Uribe now says he is willing to hold talks over the release of hostages, including soldiers, lawmakers and three U.S. military contractors who were captured in 2003.

That message has kindled a cautious hope for the families of the hundreds of kidnap victims such as Gustavo Moncayo. Nine years ago the Christmas week his soldier son Pablo was captured by the FARC during an attack on his army post.

"He was nearly 19 and turned 19 out there in the jungle, and now he is 28," Moncayo said, carrying a large picture of his son in uniform and military cap. This hits us hard. For my family this time is filled with nostalgia, sadness that there is a loved one out there waiting for the government and the guerrillas to sit down."

Uribe has agreed to allow France, Switzerland and Spain to resume their efforts to help negotiate an exchange of jailed FARC fighters for kidnap victims as an initial step to ending Colombia's conflict. Hoyos, the radio presenter who began his program in 1994 after he was rescued after 17 days in FARC captivity, says he hopes he will soon have no need to broadcast his messages. "This is the dose of life they need," he said at the vigil. "It's like the fuel the kidnap victims need to keep going and stay alive out there in the jungle." (Patrick Markey, Reuters, Bogota, Dec 24, via Wilkner)

(Source: DX Window No. 314 via Anker Petersen)