Rescuing Hostages to Death

Hope for the safe rescue of three Americans held hostage in Colombia has faded following a new round of violence that stopped negotiations between the government and the rebel group, FARC. 

After a bomb allegedly planted by FARC went off at a military college late last week, President Alvaro Uribe broke off weeks of negotiation for a peaceful exchange of hostages and is now calling for a "military rescue" instead with the Colombian military swooping in to save them.

The three Americans are military contractors whose drug surveillance plane crashed in the FARC-controlled area in February of 2003. They have been identified as Keith Stansell, Marc Gonsalves and Thomas Howes (pictured left to right).


Uribe has increased police presence in the rebel area and reports in the Colombian press say he could act at any time.

Jack Cloonan, an ABC consultant who runs a hostage negotiation firm, says that military "rescues" often result in dead hostages.

"Imagine what these men look like after being held for three years in captivity in the remote part of the jungle, when you have only a matter seconds to interdict to do all the necessary shooting to protect yourself and seek the release of the hostages," says Cloonan. "Those hostages can be killed not only by the people who are holding them, in this case the FARC, but also be killed by the government troops."   

The last military rescue in Colombia in 2003 resulted in the rebels executing all the hostages before the military could even reach them.

Cloonan says that in situations like these, the U.S. government will put pressure on governments like Colombia to continue negotiations.

"We have given the Colombian government millions and millions of dollars over the you know the government is going to listen to the United States when it calls and says this is what we would like you to do."

Reports right now are that the situation is tense and that after the recent bombing, President Uribe is under pressure to act. But Cloonan says that negotiations are still a real possibility.

"I think within the next 48 to 72 hours the situation might change, and it may very well change because the United States government says, 'Hold on. We don't want you to act unilaterally. Let's talk about this," says Cloonan. "This goes on all the time."

No Colombian official was available for immediate comment.

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