Cardinal Castrillón Asks Guerrillas to Free Hostages

Urges FARC to Accept Government Offer

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BOGOTA, Colombia, DEC. 23, 2004 ( Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos has asked Colombia’s main guerrilla group to accept a government proposal that would free the hostages the rebels are holding.

«To accept this proposal would be something magnificent. I ask them not to let this opportunity go by,» affirmed the cardinal on Colombian radio. The Colombia prelate is prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Clergy.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) is holding 63 people hostage, among them politicians, soldiers and police.

Last week Colombian President Álvaro Uribe approved the extradition to the United States a FARC leader, Ricardo Palmera, also know as Simón Trinidad, who was wanted for drug trafficking.

Uribe said, however, that he was willing to not extradite Palmera if the FARC freed before Dec. 30 all those held hostage, including the ex-presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt.

The president expanded his proposal Monday by offering an opportunity for dialogue concerning the hostages. He offered to do so in any church in the country, with guarantees that there would be Church officials present, in keeping with FARC requests.

Cardinal Pedro Rubiano, archbishop of Bogota and president of the episcopal conference, asked that the Dec. 30 deadline be extended.

He reiterated an offer to use any Catholic church as a meeting place for the FARC and the government to discuss an agreement to free the hostages.

From prison, Ricardo Palmera said in a statement to the weekly El Espectador that he believed that he will be extradited to the United States, and warned that this situation «will close all paths» to an exchange of hostages and rebel prisoners.

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