Colombian Rebels Display Long-Held Hostages

A senator whose 2002 kidnapping by rebels during a plane hijacking caused the government to cancel peace talks is being held in the jungles of southwest Colombia, a report said Friday.

Jorge Gechen, whose Senate term expired during his 18 months in captivity, was interviewed by a reporter for Cromos magazine, who saw him and 31 other hostages being guarded by hundreds of rebels. It was the first time Gechen had been heard from since his kidnapping.

Some of the captives — five politicians and 27 soldiers and policemen — have spent more than five years in rebel hands. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, hopes to exchange them for imprisoned rebels. They apparently allowed the interview in hopes of putting further pressure on the government.

Gechen — who was president of the Senate's peace commission — was kidnapped Feb. 20, 2002, by rebel hijackers who forced his plane to land on a rural highway. Within hours, the government canceled three years of peace talks, saying the FARC was not interested in peace.

In comments taped by reporter Jorge Enrique Botero, Gechen called on the government to accede to the rebels' demands for a prisoner exchange.

"There are legal reasons, international conventions and humanitarian considerations for a humanitarian exchange," Gechen said.

Botero said he arrived at a FARC camp in southwest Colombia on July 22 and spent three days with the 32 hostages. Some passed on messages to their wives and children.

Botero said the hostages told him they frequently moved through the jungle to evade government rescue missions. "They go through the jungles on extended walks like a nomadic tribe," Botero told a radio interviewer Friday.

FARC military commander Jorge Briceno, who goes by the nom de guerre Mono Jojoy, presented the hostages to Botero, who after the encounter were then split up and led away in groups of five and six, the reporter said.