Latin America & Caribbean

Jesse Jackson continues Farc mission despite Colombia refusal

Rev Jesse Jackson in Cuba
Image caption The Rev Jesse Jackson said would be travelling in the next few days

The US civil rights activist Rev Jesse Jackson says he will go to Colombia to seek the release of a former US marine held hostage despite the government's rejection of his mediation offer.

President Juan Manuel Santos said on Saturday he did not want the freeing of the man held by left-wing Farc rebels to become a "media spectacle."

Only the Red Cross would be allowed to participate, Mr Santos said.

Meanwhile, the rebels have asked the president to reconsider his position.

The International Committee of the Red Cross also said on Sunday it is waiting for an agreement to get into the process.

"When both sides [the Farc and the government] reach an agreement, we will start playing our part," the ICRC spokesperson Erika Tovar told Colombian newspaper El Espectador.

From Havana, where he had met with Farc leaders who are in Cuba for the peace talks with the government, Rev Jesse Jackson said he still intended to go to Colombia "in a matter of days".

The country's largest rebel group captured US marine Kevin Scott Sutay in June.

He was allegedly backpacking through a conflict region, on his way to Brazil.

"Today he [Mr Sutay] is free to leave, but we need the ceasefire zone and the capacity to retrieve him," Rev Jackson told reporters.

The rebels say they are ready to free the veteran of the war in Afghanistan and appealed to the Colombian leader on Sunday.

"We call on President Santos to reflect, and that instead of unjustly prolonging Scott's stay in the jungle, we start planning the with the ICRC the security protocol required in such cases," the Farc said in a statement.

'Service to nation'

Earlier this month, during a visit to Colombia, Jesse Jackson had called on Colombia's largest rebel group to release Mr Scott.

The left-wing rebels responded by releasing a statement on Saturday inviting the civil rights leader to participate in the negotiations over the ex-soldiers' release.

Hours later, the American leader accepted the invitation in Cuba, where he had met rebel leaders who are in Havana for peace talks with the Colombian government, as a service "to Kevin Scott, his family and our nation".

The left-wing rebels had originally requested the involvement of former Senator Piedad Cordoba in the release process, but President Santos also dismissed this to avoid a "media spectacle".

The Farc say they want to free Mr Scott to boost peace talks.

So far, officially there has been agreement on only one of six points on the agenda - land reform.

Five decades of internal conflict in Colombia have led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people.

And a study by Colombia's National Centre for Historical Memory suggests 220,000 people have died in the violence.

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