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Source: 2 FARC members offered money to help rescue

  • Story Highlights
  • The Colombian government has repeatedly denied making any ransom payment
  • Source close to Colombian intelligence says money offered to 2 or 3 couriers
  • Source said one took the money and others requested protection
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From Karl Penhaul

CNN
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BOGOTA, Colombia (CNN) -- At least two members of the Colombian rebel group FARC were offered money to switch sides and deliver bogus orders as part of last week's rescue of 15 FARC hostages, a source close to Colombian military intelligence told CNN Wednesday.

The Colombian military and government has repeatedly denied that any ransom payment was made for the hostages -- who included Ingrid Betancourt, a prominent Colombian politician, three Americans and 11 Colombian police officers and soldiers who had been held captive in the jungle for years. They were freed in an elaborate ruse hatched and carried out by secret Colombian agents posing as leftist rebels. The hostages climbed onto what they thought was a FARC flight, only to find they were headed to freedom.

Despite insistence from the military and the government that no money changed hands in connection with the operation, the source told CNN recently that it did in the months leading up to the rescue.

Money was offered to two or three couriers, members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), in order to persuade them to switch sides and ferry bogus orders to guerrillas on the ground to hand over the hostages, pretending such orders came from FARC commanders, the source said.

Only one of the couriers took money, while the others requested protection, the source said.

In addition, the mission involved electronic interception of FARC messages and intelligence -- information the Colombian government is now using to bolster its claim that FARC is losing its command and its control. The government said Tuesday that the new leader of the rebel group recently sent a message to his supporters proposing peace talks with the government.

Separately, the U.S. ambassador in Colombia, William Brownfield, indicated that the United States may have played a larger role in the rescue operation than initially thought. In comments Wednesday, he suggested the United States may have had personnel on the ground -- a "rapid reaction force" of sorts -- although they were not needed.

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Since 2000, the United States has spent several billion dollars in Colombia to buy military hardware and boost intelligence-gathering. It was already known that a U.S. surveillance plane was flying over the Colombian jungle at the time the hostages were rescued, helping to jam FARC radio communications.

The operation has been hailed as a resounding success in both Colombia and the United States.

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