Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, guerrillas killed a non-commissioned officer and 10 other soldiers in Arauca, a province on the border with Venezuela, a military spokesman told Efe.
Two soldiers wounded in the attack were taken to San Vicente Hospital in Arauca city, the provincial capital.
The soldiers, who belonged to a unit assigned to protect oil industry infrastructure, were attacked around 4:30 p.m. Saturday in Tres Cruces, a town outside the city of Arauquita.
The attack was staged by the Drigelio Almarales company of the FARC‘s 10th Front, the army said.
The soldiers were killed just hours after the FARC said the previously announced release of 10 hostages was contingent on the government allowing members of Women of the World for Peace to visit imprisoned rebels.
“The only thing needed now is for President Juan Manuel Santos to allow the humanitarian visit sought by Women of the World for Peace to the political and prisoners of war in the country’s prisons,” the FARC said in a statement posted on its Web site.
“We are informing the Women of the World for Peace group coordinated by Piedad Cordoba and the Asfamipaz organization that we are ready to start the release process,” the FARC said.
The FARC statement contradicted the information provided earlier by Cordoba, a former senator who had assured the country that visits to imprisoned rebels would not be a condition for the hostages’ release.
Cordoba said the FARC statement boosted her confidence that the hostage release would take place as expected in April.
“We are sure that we are going to achieve it,” Cordoba told the press.
Vice President Angelino Garzon, meanwhile, said Sunday that the new conditions set by the FARC amounted to “torture” of the hostages’ relatives.
“This is a new demonstration of the torture by the guerrillas against the relatives and the kidnapped people,” Garzon told reporters during an appearance in the Caribbean resort city of Cartagena.
The FARC, Colombia’s oldest and largest leftist guerrilla group, was founded in 1964, has an estimated 8,000 fighters and operates across a large swath of this Andean nation.
The Colombian government has made fighting the FARC a top priority and has obtained billions in U.S. aid for counterinsurgency operations.
The FARC has suffered a series of setbacks in recent years at the hands of the Colombian security forces.
Alfonso Cano, the FARC’s top leader, was killed on Nov. 4 in a military and police operation that the government hailed as the biggest blow to the FARC in its nearly 50-year history.
Cano, a 63-year-old intellectual who had entered the ranks of the FARC 30 years ago, was killed in in a remote area of the southwestern province of Cauca a few hours after fleeing a bombardment.
The FARC also suffered a series of blows in 2008, with the biggest coming in July of that year, when the Colombian army rescued a group of high-profile rebel-held captives: former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, U.S. military contractors Thomas Howes, Keith Stansell and Marc Gonsalves, and 11 other Colombian police officers and soldiers.
The FARC is on both the U.S. and EU lists of terrorist groups. Drug trafficking, extortion and kidnapping-for-ransom are the FARC’s main means of financing its operations.