FARC rebels hope US will release top guerrilla

Colombia's leftist FARC rebels said Friday they are hoping the United States will allow a senior guerrilla held there to participate in peace negotiations starting next month.

The FARC's negotiating team includes Simon Trinidad, a rebel leader currently serving a 60-year prison sentence at a US Supermax prison for kidnapping three Americans in Colombia.

"The United States could make a gesture that would help get the country on the path to reconciliation after all the damage the US government has done to our people," Rodrigo Granda, one of the five main negotiators appointed by the FARC, told Caracol television.

He urged Washington to namely consider repatriating Trinidad.

Talks between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and FARC rebels are due to kick off in Oslo on October 8 to negotiate an end to the FARC's decades-old insurgency. A second round will follow in Havana.

It marks the first attempt in a decade to negotiate a peaceful end to the conflict that began when the guerrilla group was founded in 1964.

Granda said the FARC would propose "mechanisms" to the Colombian government for Trinidad to be part of the talks, and insisted the rebel leader would not hinder negotiations.

Arrested in Venezuela in 2004 and later extradited to Colombia, Granda was released in 2007 following a French government request to help mediate the freedom of former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, a dual Colombian and French citizen held by the FARC for six and a half years.

Latin America's largest and oldest insurgency with some 9,200 fighters, the FARC has been battered by military defeats in recent years and its numbers whittled down by about half over the past decade.

The last round of peace talks, held in 2002, collapsed when the Colombian government concluded that the guerrillas were regrouping in a Switzerland-sized demilitarized zone it created to help reach a peace deal.

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