Father carries cross for FARC hostages

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MARCO WERMAN: We don't hear much these days about the hostages held in the jungle by Columbia's FARC gorillas. Last year several high profile hostages were freed in a spectacular commando rescue operation. The liberation of politician Ingrid Betancourt and three American military contractors made headlines worldwide. Now at least 23 hostages are still being held by the Marxist rebels. Their families worry that the world has forgotten about them. One prisoner is Columbian army soldier Pablo Emilio Moncayo and his father is trying to raise awareness by walking across the country with a large wooden cross on his soldiers � from Granada, Columbia John Otis has the story.

JOHN OTIS: With five miles already under his belt Gustavo Moncayo stops on the side of the road to greet well wishers who offer the high school teacher bottles of soda and blocks of cheese to give him energy. He'll need it. Moncayo is on his way to Bogot- and the final 30 miles are all uphill. Moncayo is protesting the Columbian government's refusal to negotiate with the rebels who captured his son during a 1997 fire fight. For years gorillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia or FARC have tried to exchange their hostages for rebels held in Columbian prisons.


Columbian TV has broadcast several proof-of-life videos of Corporal Moncayo that were released by the gorillas as a way to put more pressure on the government of President Alvaro Uribe to cut a deal.

OTIS: In this June 2007 video Corporal Moncayo greets his family and calls on the government to make peace with the gorillas. But President Uribe, whose father was killed in a botched kidnapping attempt by the FARC, has refused to be blackmailed. Since last year's rescue operation which freed Betancourt and the three American contractors the gorilla group has unilaterally freed some of its prisoners but Corporal Moncayo's release has been delayed. That's because each jungle handover has resulted in TV coverage and a publicity bonanza for the gorillas. The Uribe government is now insisting that the gorillas release Moncayo and the remaining hostages all at once. The FARC has refused. Amid the stalemate Gustavo Moncayo is carrying a home-made bamboo cross to Bogot- where he plans to symbolically crucify himself in front of the presidential palace. He says he's tired of excuses.

TRANSLATOR: How much longer do we have to wait? We waited 11 and a half years for the gorillas to agree to free my son. And we have been waiting another six months for the government to cooperate. It's the most unjust thing in the world.

OTIS: This isn't the first time Moncayo has hit the road. He's logged more than 1600 miles in protest walks including a two-month trek from Bogot- to Caracas where he pleaded with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who openly admires the FARC, to lobby for his son's freedom. Wearing sturdy running shoes Moncayo walks about 15 miles a day. Along the way he recites poetry, answers his cell phone, and admires the Columbian countryside. But he takes frequent breaks because his bamboo cross which is held together with masking tape and rubber bands digs into his shoulders. Despite Moncayo's efforts most Columbians support President Uribe and his refusal to give into the gorillas. Over the past seven years his law-and-order policies have weakened the FARC and led to a steep drop in kidnappings. Improved security has boosted Uribe's popularity and fueled the effort to change the constitution to allow Uribe to serve a third term. Moncayo's critics in turn wonder why he focuses his wrath on the government while refusing to condemn the gorillas. Still his marches have become crusades for long-suffering relatives of the remaining hostages. Some have joined Moncayo on his marches which cause traffic jams. Many motorists honk their horns in support and people lineup on the side of the highway to catch a glimpse of Moncayo and his cross.


OTIS: This woman says that as a mother she feels Moncayo's pain but she laments the fact that his march has seemed to have made no difference. They have however turned Moncayo into a celebrity at home. He's addressed audiences in the United States and Europe about Columbia's hostage crisis and Moncayo says that he'll keep on walking until the government and the gorillas reach a deal to free his son. For The World I'm John Otis, Grenada, Columbia.