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Last Updated: Monday, 23 August, 2004, 17:59 GMT 18:59 UK
Press cynical over Colombia prisoner swap
Rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, Farc
Press expected Farc rejection

The decision by Colombia's largest rebel movement to reject a government plan to exchange prisoners has come as no surprise to two of the country's leading daily newspapers.

Commentators in both believe the so-called "humanitarian exchange", in which jailed rebels would have been swapped for hostages, can be viewed as a political ploy rather than a sincere gesture.

However, the belief is expressed that the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or Farc, should not have rejected the offer, proposed by President Alvaro Uribe, out of hand.

One paper says this allows the president to give the impression he is seeking peace while the rebels are unwilling to hold a dialogue.

The proposed exchange leads to nothing except to encourage more kidnaps of leaders and members of the security forces
Senator German Vargas Lleras

"The Farc should have taken advantage of the opportunity, even if it were a political ploy by the government," says El Espectador, describing the offer as "a ray of hope after many years of disillusion".

"However, it was obvious from the start it was going to be rejected."

The El Espectador editorial argues that the proposal was designed to kill several birds with one stone.

The paper says it was meant to assuage international critics complaining about the right-wing paramilitaries, ease the pressure from hostages' families, and reduce the hostility of the group of former presidents concerned about the hostages' fate.

The daily believes that the only glimmer of hope lies in the fact that "the government has acknowledged the message from a significant sector of opinion which rejects the idea that war is the only form of dialogue between the Farc and the government".

'Horrifying'

In contrast, El Espectador also carries an interview with a senator and supporter of the government who says he was horrified at the offer.

Was it a powerful initiative in favour of peace, or simply a strategic ploy to influence public opinion?
El Tiempo commentary

"The proposed exchange leads to nothing except to encourage more kidnaps of leaders and members of the security forces," says Senator German Vargas Lleras. "Quite frankly, I think it's horrifying."

A commentator in El Tiempo similarly links the government initiative with the president's political ambitions.

"Just as Uribe won his first presidential election with the Iron Fist, he could be aiming to achieve a triumph in his eventual re-election by showing what a big heart he has."

"Although initially the proposal seemed audacious, it offered little to the rebels in practical terms," the columnist writes, pointing out that senior rebels would still have been kept in prison.

"Was it a powerful initiative in favour of peace, or simply a strategic ploy to influence public opinion?" the writer asks.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.




SEE ALSO:
Farc rebels reject hostage offer
23 Aug 04  |  Americas
Timeline: Colombia
19 Aug 04  |  Country profiles
Q&A: Colombia's civil conflict
06 May 03  |  Americas
Country profile: Colombia
06 May 04  |  Country profiles


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