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Posted June 20, 2007 by publisher in Cuba Human Rights

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International Herald Tribune

A senior leftist rebel freed by President Alvaro Uribe traveled to Cuba on Monday and where peace facilitators said they hope the trip might help advance efforts to free 60 hostages, including three U.S. military contractors.

Rodrigo Granda, who had served as a roving diplomat for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, told The Associated Press earlier that he was traveling to Cuba for medical exams and rest after more than two years in jail.

He left amid heavy security with Dario Echeverry, a peace facilitator for the Roman Catholic Church.

Echeverry told Caracol Radio on Sunday that he hopes Granda “can construct a space for himself that will allow him to work for peace and reconciliation in Colombia,” but did not say how or whether the rebel leader might contact insurgent representatives while on the communist-led island.

Uribe released Granda from prison on June 4 at the request of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who hoped the action might encourage the FARC to free former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, a dual French-Colombian citizen.

Interior Minister Carlos Holguin on Sunday said he hoped Granda would use his time in Cuba to facilitate a humanitarian exchange with the rebels, but cautioned that hostage family members would have to wait for any concrete results.

Granda himself has tried to dampen expectations of any imminent deal.

Granda told the AP he has not had any contact with the FARC while staying at the Bogota headquarters of the Catholic church and that any mediating role he plays would have to be ordered by the rebel group’s secretariat.

Granda has reiterated long-standing FARC demands that any hostage deal must include the demilitarization of an 800-square-kilometer (310-square-mile) zone in southwest Colombia for 45 days, as well as the release of two rebels held in U.S. jails.

Uribe has rejected the proposal for a rebel safe haven.

U.S. contractors Marc Gonsalves, Keith Stansell and Thomas Howes were kidnapped in 2003 when their plane went down in southern Colombia while on an intelligence gathering mission. The FARC say they are prisoners of war and accuse them of spying for the CIA.

FARC commander Nayibe “Sonia” Rojas was convicted this year by a U.S. court of exporting cocaine. Another commander, Ricardo Palmera &#xu2;014 better known by the nom de guerre Simon Trinidad &#xu2;014 is awaiting trial in the United States on charges of kidnapping the three contractors and drug trafficking.

The U.S. has ruled out releasing the two imprisoned guerrillas.

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