Colombia: everything set for release of 10 held by FARC-EP
The ICRC is standing by to facilitate the release of 10 people (four soldiers and six police officers) currently held by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP), some for over 14 years now. The operation should begin on 2 April, with the ICRC receiving support from the Colombian and Brazilian governments and working in conjunction with the organization Colombianas y Colombianos por la Paz.
In the following interview, Jordi Raich, head of the ICRC delegation in Colombia, talks about this type of work in general and the ICRC's specific role in releasing people held by armed groups.
How many people have been handed over to the ICRC by armed groups this year?
In the first few months of 2012, our delegates facilitated the release of 11 civilians held by the National Liberation Army in Arauca and of a police officer held by the FARC-EP in Cauca. In those cases, the ICRC was approached directly by the armed groups and the families and asked to carry out these handovers. Next week, another 10 individuals will be released by the FARC-EP into the care of a team made up of ICRC delegates and members of Colombianas y Colombianos por la Paz, with logistical support from the Brazilian government.
Why does the ICRC assist with these hostage releases?
We take part because we're concerned about the well-being of these individuals, who have been separated from their families and held in difficult conditions for many years. The ICRC does everything in its power to ensure that they're reunited with their families and able to resume their lives. These handovers are possible thanks to the confidential dialogue we maintain with all the parties to the conflict and the recognition the ICRC enjoys in Colombia as a neutral intermediary and facilitator.
What do you tell relatives who have been waiting for more than a decade for this release to happen?
Since the operation was announced, the ICRC has been visiting the families to help them through the process and to prepare them to be reunited with their loved ones. Our intention is to show them that we're confident the handover will be successful and that we're prepared for all eventualities. The release of the 10 policemen and soldiers will be good news for Colombia as a whole and will bring great joy to their families.
What has been the ICRC's role in this process?
After the FARC-EP announced the unilateral release, the ICRC indicated that it was ready and willing to act as a neutral intermediary and facilitator. Once it was given the go-ahead by all concerned, the ICRC started working on the logistical and security aspects, with support from the Brazilian government and in coordination with all the parties. So our role basically involves acting as a neutral intermediary between the parties, assisting with logistical arrangements, and helping establish the security conditions required for the operation to go ahead.
How has the Brazilian government been of help?
Since 2008, the Brazilian government has been a key ally in helping the ICRC with the logistics of release operations because Brazil's involvement is accepted by both the Colombian government and the FARC-EP. As in the past, two helicopters – supplied and crewed by the Brazilian army and bearing the ICRC emblem – will fly the 10 police officers and soldiers to safety once they are released. The ICRC is very grateful for this transport and indeed for all the support we've received from the Brazilians.
How will the handover be organized?
The operation should begin on 2 April. We've made preparations for two separate releases. But we're also ready to adapt to changing circumstances, to conduct just one operation, or more than two, if the parties see fit. The main thing is to ensure that all those due to be released are indeed freed.
What do security procedures stipulate about suspending military operations in the release area?
They stipulate that by 7 p.m. two days before the operation (in this case 31 March), the ICRC should notify the Ministry of Defence of the area in which military operations should be suspended. This suspension means halting all military activity from 6 p.m. on the eve of the release (1 April), until 6 p.m. on the day after the operation (3 April). The same procedures will be used if more than one operation proves necessary.
What difficulties could arise?
We're confident that the operation will go off without a hitch and that, if difficulties do arise, they will be due to bad weather or mechanical breakdown. These are logistically complex operations, but we have repeatedly shown that we're capable of responding swiftly to difficulties and adapting to changing circumstances in order to guarantee success and reunite families. That's what matters.
How many ICRC staff members will take part in the operation?
About 30 people will be involved: medical, logistical and other staff. They will be working either at Villavicencio airport, where the released hostages will arrive, or in our sub-delegations and offices.