Farc Rebel Group: 'We Will Stop Kidnapping'

Farc Rebel Group: 'We Will Stop Kidnapping'

Colombia's Farc rebel group has said it will stop kidnapping and plans to free its last remaining "prisoners of war" - 10 security force members held for as long as 14 years.

The leftist group announced on its website that it would no longer kidnap civilians "for financial ends".

It is the first time the group has renounced a practice it has long used against Colombia's wealthy.

However, questions remain over when hostages will be released and whether Farc leaders can enforce the order given the insurgency's decentralised nature.

The rebels are known to currently hold four foreigners, all Chinese oil workers abducted last June.

The announcement could lead to peace talks sought by the rebels with the government, which has insisted all kidnappings end before any dialogue.

But the rebels have not renounced hostilities. They have recently stepped up hit-and-run attacks and the military blames them for a bombing and mortar attack on two police posts in the past month that killed 15 people and wounded nearly 100, most of them civilians.

The group suffered a blow late in 2011 when its leader, Alfonso Cano , was killed in a military bombing.

Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos responded positively but cautiously to the latest announcement, calling it "an important and necessary, if insufficient, step in the right direction".

Because Farc's dispersed members operate with relative autonomy it is not clear when any civilians held for ransom will be released.

In the 1990s, kidnappings by Farc, which is estimated to have 9,000 fighters, or by criminal gangs that sold the abducted to the rebels, helped make Colombia the world's kidnapping capital.

Among their most high-profile victims was Ingrid Betancourt, a Colombian politician, anti-corruption activist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee who was kidnapped in 2002 and rescued more than six years later by Colombian security forces.

The country's anti-kidnapping police said the Farc - considered a terrorist organisation by the US and the EU - kidnapped 72 people during the first 11 months of 2011.

There are estimates that 500 Colombians are now being held for ransom, mainly by the Farc and the country's second rebel band, the National Liberation Army.