updated 7/11/2008 3:06:32 PM ET 2008-07-11T19:06:32

Colombian rebels on Friday blamed two guerrillas who were guarding hostages for the success of a rescue mission by the military that freed three U.S. defense contractors, a former presidential candidate and 11 others.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, Latin America’s last remaining major rebel army, said “the escape of the 15 prisoners of war” on July 2 “was a direct consequence of the despicable conduct of Cesar and Enrique, who betrayed their revolutionary commitment.”

Military intelligence agents freed 15 rebel-held hostages — including French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt — by posing as aid workers on a mock humanitarian mission that rebels were told would ferry their hostages by helicopter to another camp for talks on a prisoner swap.

Government officials have said that the operation took the rebels completely by surprise.

Colombian authorities say Cesar and Enrique Gafas, whose legal names are Gerardo Aguilar and Alexander Farfan, boarded the helicopter only to be overpowered and arrested.

The FARC’s statement, signed July 5, appeared Friday on the Web site of the Bolivarian Press Agency, which usually carries rebel commentaries. It did not further explain the “betrayal.”

Cesar and Enrique are among 11 suspects indicted in Washington in September on charges of conspiracy to provide support to a foreign terrorist organization.

The two also face charges of hostage-taking and terrorism. The United States is seeking their extradition.

The FARC also announced Friday that it continues to pursue an agreement to swap hostages for imprisoned rebels “independent of whatever political or military confrontation where there are victories and reversals.”

Colombia’s government says the FARC still holds about 700 hostages for political leverage and ransom. Rebels had offered to swap 25 high-value captives for imprisoned guerrillas, but the July 2 rescue robbed them of their top bargaining chips.

Colombian congressman Mauricio Lizcano, son of rebel-held hostage Oscal Tulio Lizcano, saw the FARC statement as a positive development.

“The FARC maintain a willingness to reach a humanitarian accord,” he said. “It looks like the FARC will not retaliate against those who are still kidnapped. ... In today’s statement, the FARC do not say anything about reprisals against the kidnapped.”

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments