Colombian guerrillas admit to holding 3 Americans


BOGOTA, Colombia - Leftist guerrillas issued a statement yesterday acknowledging for the first time that they are holding three U.S. government contractors who crashed in a plane in rebel-held territory 10 days ago.

Rebels with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC for their Spanish initials, referred to the three kidnapped Americans as "CIA agents" and said they had shot down the plane Feb. 13.

They demanded the immediate cessation of rescue efforts in a small area surrounding the site of the crash in the mountains of southern Colombia. The communique made no mention of the two other crew members, an American and a Colombian intelligence official, whose bodies were found near the crash site, shot at close range.

"We will guarantee the life and physical integrity of the three gringo officials in our power only if the Colombian army immediately suspends military operations and overflights," read the statement, which was posted on the group's Web site and signed by its ruling junta.

The rescue efforts are backed by more than 150 U.S. Special Forces troops, whom President Bush sent to Colombia last week after using his executive authority to waive a congressionally mandated cap of 400 U.S. troops in the war-torn nation.

T. Christian Miller writes for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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