Colombian rebels have demanded that the government withdraw its troops from a New York-city-sized swath of jungle in southern Colombia before any talks over a prisoner exchange take place, a senior rebel commander said in a published interview Tuesday.
The interview was published in the local newspaper, El Tiempo, after Rodrigo Granda, the "foreign minister" of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), was released on June 4 at the request of French President Nicolas Sarkozy in a bid to revive a stalled prisoner swap for 60 hostages held by the rebels.
"The FARC position on the humanitarian exchange unchangeable. Without demilitarization, the FARC cannot agree to meet any government representatives," Raul Reyes, No. 2 commander of the 17,000-member rebel group, said in the interview.
He also reiterated that the FARC did not play any role in talks between France and Colombia President Alvaro Uribe, and that Sarkozy had not negotiated on their behalf.
However, President Uribe has always ruled out any demilitarization, warning that it is an invitation for the embattled rebels to regroup against the government.