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BOGOTA, Colombia - A 60-year U.S. prison sentence imposed on a Colombian rebel for kidnapping three Americans is likely to complicate efforts to free the defense contractors as well as dozens of other hostages.
A federal judge in Washington, D.C., imposed the maximum Monday on Ricardo Palmera, a senior rebel commander known as "Simon Trinidad," who was convicted in the kidnapping of Keith Stansell, Marc Gonsalves and Tom Howes.
The three Americans were abducted in February 2003 by guerrillas from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, after their plane crashed on a surveillance mission.
The Northrop Grumman Corp. contractors and French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt are among about 45 "high-value" hostages the rebels offered to swap for hundreds of guerrillas imprisoned in Colombia as well as Palmera and another FARC rebel, known as "Sonia," who is imprisoned in Texas on drug charges.
"The FARC have always said that the freeing of Trinidad and Sonia are part of any swap," said Vicente Torrijos, a political analyst with the University of Rosario. "Without them there might not be any negotiations."
For its part, Colombia's government opposes direct talks between the rebels and the U.S. government, worrying that the return of the two rebels could weaken the policy of extradition. Colombian authorities view extradition as one of its main weapons in its fight against the world's largest cocaine industry.
The U.S. Embassy in Bogota calls the three contractors - who lived in Florida when they were captured - the longest-held U.S. hostages in the world.
[Last modified January 30, 2008, 02:11:40]