Four security force members held by the FARC guerrilla group were killed by their captors during a military operation in the southern province of Caqueta, Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon said Saturday.
Pinzon said that three of the men, some of whom had been held for more than 12 years, “were killed mercilessly with coups de grace” and at the place their bodies were found there were also chains such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, habitually uses to bind its captives.
The minister said that during a military operation were found “four bodies, four persons killed. Three of them were shot in the head and one was shot in the back.”
The victims were army Sgt. Jose Libio Martinez Estrada, kidnapped almost 14 years ago and until now the FARC hostage with the longest time in captivity, along with members of the National Police identified as Lt. Col. Edgar Yesid Duarte Valero, Maj. Elkin Hernandez Rivas and Quartermaster Gen. Alvaro Moreno.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said Saturday that the FARC are the “only ones responsible” for the deaths of the four hostages, which he described as a “vile action…the cruelest we have seen in a long time.”
“I can imagine they’re going to say it was the military’s fault,” Santos said in his customary Saturday address, adding that the guilty parties are those who did the kidnapping and “pulled the trigger.”
Pinzon said that the victims, all members of the armed forces, had been “defenseless, without any way of defending themselves.”
He said that during the operation an armed member of the FARC was captured.
The minister slammed the incident as “unacceptable,” and demanded that the murders not go unpunished.
“Because in Colombia these deeds must not go unpunished, because these incidents must be tried in court,” Minister Pinzon told a press conference.
The FARC, a Marxist rebel army that has fought a decades-old struggle against a succession of Colombian governments, once held as many as 60 police, soldiers and politicians it hoped to trade for hundreds of jailed guerrillas.
But it is now believed to be holding just over a dozen “exchangeable” captives.
The guerrillas have told Colombian authorities in the past that captives will be killed if the fighters holding them come under attack from security forces.
In 2007, 11 provincial lawmakers were killed while in rebel hands. The FARC claimed they died in a crossfire during an armed clash, but a government investigation determined they had all been shot at close range by the rebels.