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FARC rebel release: 'smokescreen' or 'humanitarian'?

Colombia's president says it's a step towards a prisoner swap, but critics say it's a setup for freeing accused gov't officials.

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Colombian President Alvaro Uribe's decision to release more than 150 imprisoned members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has elicited hope from supporters and family members of hostages held by FARC, as well as prompting accusations of ulterior motives relating to a growing government scandal.

Agence France-Presse reports that FARC's "foreign minister" Rodrigo Granda, left prison Monday, and it's now hoped that the group will free 56 hostages it is holding, including former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, who has duel French-Colombian citizenship. French President Nicolas Sarkozy asked Mr. Uribe make the move in an attempt to gain the freedom of Ms. Betanancourt and the other hostages, AFP writes.

Sarkozy's office said the French president had "explicitly requested" that Uribe release Granda and welcomed his Colombian counterpart's "very important and courageous decision."

Sarkozy, whose country has sought Betancourt's release for five years, "now hopes that this development will be heard by FARC" and that "they will respond," his office said in a statement Tuesday.

Betancourt, a politician, was taken hostage in February 2002 while she was running a long-shot campaign for Colombia's presidency.

The Los Angeles Times reports that FARC dismissed the release of the prisoners as a "farce" and a "smokescreen" indended to divert attention from a growing government scandal, in which more than a dozen government officials have been jailed with associating with right-wing paramilitaries.

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