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In Colombia, US ambassador calls hostage-holding rebels sick and weak
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    BOGOTA, Colombia — The U.S. ambassador condemned Colombia’s main rebel group as ‘‘sick and weak’’ on the fifth anniversary Wednesday of its seizure of three American military contractors on a surveillance flight.
    ‘‘Abusing other human beings is not the act of a warrior or a soldier or a revolutionary,’’ Ambassador William Brownfield said in the U.S. Embassy’s front courtyard before some 500 fellow employees.
    ‘‘It is the act of a sick and weak institution,’’ he said, directly addressing rebels of the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. ‘‘You are not soldiers. You are not revolutionaries.’’
    The FARC grabbed Marc Gonsalves, Thomas Howes and Keith Stansell after their plane made a forced landing in rebel-held southern jungles on Feb. 13, 2003, due to engine trouble.
    It has held them ever since in jungle prisons and is offering to exchange with some 40 other high-value hostages for hundreds of jailed rebels.
    In an interview with The Associated Press, Brownfield said U.S. officials are ‘‘searching for a solution on every possible front, ‘‘ including gathering intelligence on hostage whereabouts with the close cooperation of Colombia, Washington’s top ally in Latin America.
    The U.S. State Department in Washington issued a statement that it was open to ‘‘any credible initiative’’ by foreign governments or individuals to secure the release of all hostages held by the rebels.
    The FARC released two high-profile Colombian hostages on Jan. 10, thanks in large part to the intercession of President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. It has promised to release three more, but has not mentioned the U.S. contractors, who were employed by Northrop Grumman.
    The ambassador was asked whether he is open to a solution engineered by Chavez, who has expressed sympathy for the FARC and accused the United States of seeking to overthrow and/or assassinate him.
    ‘‘Am I open to listening to and hearing what other governments, what other organizations, what other people have to offer by way of solution? Yes,’’ he said.
    The FARC, a largely peasant army chiefly funded by cocaine trafficking, has been fighting since the early 1960s for a more equitable distribution of wealth.
    Brownfield joined American soldiers and airmen in fatigues, DEA agents and judicial investigators, janitors and others who work at the second-largest U.S. embassy in a moment of silence for the U.S. pilot, Thomas Jannis, and Colombian army sergeant, Luis Cruz, who were shot and killed by rebels after the plane went down.
    After a U.S. flag was raised before a granite wall bearing a huge yellow ribbon as the Star Spangled Banner was sung, one of Stansell’s 4-year-old twins asked no one in particular: ‘‘My papa?’’

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