HAVANA (AP) — The Rev. Jesse Jackson said Sunday he intends to press on with a bid to mediate the retrieval of a former U.S. soldier captured by Colombian rebels three months ago, despite the cool response to his plan from that country’s president.
Jackson said he still plans to travel to Colombia in the coming days in hopes of negotiating a cease-fire for a patch of jungle where U.S. citizen Kevin Scott Sutay can be picked up safely.
The guerrilla army known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, has repeatedly called for a halt to hostilities during peace talks being carried out in Havana since November, but Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has refused.
Jackson said a lengthy pause in the fighting is not necessary for his mission.
“They can have a cease-fire zone for a day to let us bring Kevin out,” he said. “They can have a cease-fire for two days.”
Jackson announced Saturday that he had accepted a FARC invitation to intervene in the case of Sutay, who was detained by the rebels while hiking through the jungle in June. According to the FARC, Sutay was wearing military fatigues and carrying surveillance equipment.
Jackson said the guerrillas told him that Sutay is “free to leave,” but the logistics of that happening safely have to be worked out.
“They at first thought he was a terrorist or a spy, but they later found that was not the case,” Jackson said. “They wanted to release him to our custody if we would come to Cuba meet with them to hear the whole story.”
Following the announcement Saturday, Santos said on Twitter that “only the Red Cross will be authorized to facilitate the handover of the North American kidnapped by the FARC. We will not allow a media spectacle.”
Santos has repeatedly said he would not send public figures to retrieve Sutay, insisting it be done discreetly by the International Red Cross.
The Red Cross in Colombia sought to stay out of the fray.
“We are prepared to begin logistical work (for Sutay’s retrieval), but only once all sides agree on the details of the release,” spokeswoman Erika Tovar said.
Jackson expressed hope the peace talks in Cuba will yield a peace agreement and said he remains optimistic a deal can be negotiated on Sutay.
“We … congratulate President Santos for his commitment to keep all forces at the table and to work out a resolution,” he said. “We are sensitive to his communications and his humanitarian concerns and his political situation. We hope he can appreciate the significance of retrieving the American veteran and further encouraging the FARC to agree with the plans for reconciliation.”
Jackson did not say whether it appeared he would be able to meet while in Cuba with imprisoned U.S. government development subcontractor Alan Gross, as he had earlier hoped.
Gross says he was only installing Internet networks for island Jewish groups and was no threat to the country. However, a Cuban court convicted him under a statute governing crimes against the state and sentenced him to 15 years.
“No one can really come to Cuba and not be concerned about the plight of Alan Gross,” Jackson said.
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