BOGOTA, Colombia – Eleven kidnapped state lawmakers held hostage for five years were killed after a military attack on the jungle camp where they were being kept, according to a statement Thursday on a Web site sympathetic to the country's largest rebel group.
The interior minister and a close adviser to President Alvaro Uribe told Colombian media that they had no information on the reported deaths. There was no way to independently confirm the report.
The Web site of the left-wing news agency ANNCOL carried a statement purportedly from the western command of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. It said 11 of the 12 provincial deputies being held were killed in the crossfire after an "unidentified military group" attacked the rebel camp June 18.
"We are waiting for confirmation," said a crying Fabiola Perdomo, wife of one of those reported dead, in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "I'm totally lost; we don't know what we're going to do."
The 12 state lawmakers were kidnapped in a brazen daylight raid in April 2002 in the southwest city of Cali. The statement said that just one survived, Sigifredo Lopez, who was not with the others at the time of the attack.
"To the families of the dead deputies, we offer our deepest condolences. We will do all in our power to help them recover the remains as soon as possible," the statement said.
The report did not say where the clash occurred, saying only that there had been increased operations by the military in the zone in recent weeks.
The head of Colombia's armed forces, Gen. Freddy Padilla, said in a statement that "military intelligence has not had any information where the deputies (of the province) of Valle del Cauca were being held by the FARC, and so has not ordered any rescue missions."
As Uribe's government has put the FARC on the defensive, the group has limited its contacts with most news organizations, but it frequently uses ANNCOL to divulge information, through statements and interviews.
Reporters for the news site, which mixes opinion columns with news stories, have complained of being harassed by the guerrillas' enemies, the far-right death squads, for their close ties to the insurgency.
The FARC's own Web site carried no information on the deputies' fate.
The Web site that reported the deaths is registered in Copenhagen, Denmark. A man whose name the site is registered under denied being its owner.
The 12 deputies are among 60 prominent hostages held by the FARC, along with former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and three kidnapped U.S. defense contractors, which the group wants to exchange for all imprisoned FARC rebels in Colombia and the United States.
Over the years, the families of the 12 kidnapped deputies have pressured the government for such an agreement and criticized occasional government statements that argued for military rescues, fearing their loved ones would be killed in the crossfire.
In April of this year, the FARC sent the families of the deputies a so-called "proof of life", a video of the kidnapped pleading for an agreement to set them free alongside messages for their families.
In what he called "a gesture of good faith" for a possible agreement, Uribe freed the highest ranking FARC rebel held in prison earlier this month and is preparing the release of another 150 FARC rebels.
The rebels have rejected the move, demanding the temporary demilitarization of a zone in southwest Colombia for a complete swap of hostages for prisoners, something Uribe has said he will not do.
This year, two of the 60 prominent hostages have fled FARC captivity, including the current foreign minister and a police officer who spent nearly nine years in rebel hands.