BOGOTA, Colombia – The Columbian government transferred jailed leftist rebels to a holding center Friday as part of President Alvaro Uribe's bid to win freedom for 60 rebel-held hostages, including three U.S. defense contractors and former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt.
Uribe issued a statement that the rebels must "demobilize, promise not to return to crime, and be under the supervision of a foreign government or the Catholic Church" to qualify for release on June 7.
About 80 rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, were moved from various prisons to a center in Boyaca province where they will be held while their release applications are reviewed, RCN Television news reported. Another 190 were expected to arrive later Friday, the station said.
The government did not give a figure for how many prisoners had been moved.
The government said some 1,000 FARC prisoners applied for release, but suggested that less than half would be eligible.
Many jailed rebels, however, have rejected the release, saying they will accept it only through negotiations between the FARC and the government. But talks between the two sides a possible exchange of imprisoned rebels for the 60 hostages have ground to a halt.
The FARC insists on negotiations and the temporary demilitarization of a zone in southwest Colombia for the exchange. Uribe, re-elected last year on his promises of a continued hard line against the rebels, has refused to demilitarize any part of the country.
His plan to unilaterally release rebels comes amid a scandal linking Uribe's congressional backers to far-right death squads.
Families of the kidnapped also have lambasted Uribe for not doing enough to help win the release of their loved ones.