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Buying gifts, families await release of 3 hostages held by Colombian rebels

Buying gifts, families await release of 3 hostages held by Colombian rebels

Relatives of three hostages held by Colombia's leftist guerrillas are buying gifts in the hope they'll spend the first Christmas in years with their loved ones.
Patricia Perdomo said Saturday that she hopes her 2-year-old daughter will soon be able to meet her grandmother, former congresswoman Consuelo Gonzalez, who was kidnapped by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, more than six years ago.
The FARC have announced plans to release three hostages to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez _ including Gonzalez and Clara Rojas, an aide to former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, and Rojas' young son, Emmanuel, reportedly born of a relationship with a guerrilla fighter.
It remains unclear how soon or where that handover could take place.
Rojas' mother, who is also named Clara Gonzalez de Rojas, said she is optimistic and shopped Friday for clothes and a stuffed toy for the grandson, thought to be nearing 4 years old, that she has never met.
"I bought a bunny rabbit for Emmanuel. I was so excited," Gonzalez de Rojas told The Associated Press, adding that the return of her daughter and grandson "would be the best Christmas present God could give us after so much suffering."
Her daughter and the French-Colombian Betancourt were kidnapped together nearly six years ago, while Betancourt campaigned for Colombia's presidency.
"It's a long road, but it looks like this is the end," said Gonzalez de Rojas, noting that she put her 44-year-old daughter back on a health insurance plan to cover any medical treatment she might need.
Congresswoman Gonzalez's daughter Perdomo said although her family has bought some pajamas for the kidnapped former congresswoman, they prefer to wait to get any other gifts until she returns _ "and we can go shopping together."
The FARC is still holding 47 prominent hostages, whose relatives planned to call for their release at a candlelight vigil in Bogota late Saturday night.
The guerrillas are offering to free their high-value hostages _ who include three U.S. defense contractors snatched nearly five years ago _ in return for the release of hundreds of imprisoned rebels.
In Paris, Ingrid Betancourt's children urged Colombia's president to come to an agreement with the rebels, a deal that has proved elusive for five years.
"Suddenly, things are moving," Betancourt's daughter Melanie said, stressing that the need for action is more urgent now than ever.
"The day they are freed," she said, "the world will not be able to deny that the FARC will have made a humanitarian gesture of good will. At that moment, I'm sorry, it will be necessary for the Colombian President Alvaro Uribe ... to recognize that the ball is in his court."
Colombian Sen. Piedad Cordoba, who served as a mediator in hostage talks along with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, said she is optimistic the rebels will keep their word to release the three soon, but raised the possibility that a handover might be delayed.
"It could be postponed until the conditions are in place ... that don't go against the (hostages') security," she said, citing heavy Colombian government operations intended to root out guerrillas.
"The FARC have made some agreements with us _ with President Chavez and me _ that they have kept," such as releasing "proof-of-life" videos recently, Cordoba told reporters as she arrived Saturday at Venezuela's main airport near Caracas.
In Cuba on Friday, Chavez said he had plans in place to receive the hostages, but predicted it would be a "delicate operation."
Colombian groups _ both close to and within its government _ "are going to try to keep the liberation from being successful, but we will achieve it," he charged.
Chavez had aimed to negotiate a prisoners-for-hostages swap until Uribe called him off last month, saying the Venezuelan leader had overstepped his mandate by directly contacting the head of Colombia's army. Chavez has since frozen relations with the U.S.-allied Uribe, whom he accuses of caving to pressure from Washington.
Cordoba said she had flown to Venezuela to deliver letters from three U.S. congressmen _ one to Chavez and one for FARC commander Manuel Marulanda. The letters call the announced release a positive sign and ask for all remaining hostages, including the three U.S. contractors, to be freed.
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Associated Press writers Ian James and Sandra Sierra, in Caracas, Venezuela, contributed to this report.