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Venezuelan helicopters in Colombia on mission to pick up 4 rebel-held hostages

Venezuelan helicopters in Colombia on mission to pick up 4 rebel-held hostages

Two Venezuelan helicopters took off from a southern Colombian base on Wednesday on a mission to pick up four rebel-held hostages who have spent more than six years in captivity.
The two choppers, bearing the International Red Cross insignia, refueled in San Jose and headed for a Colombian jungle clearing for the hostage handover. They were to then return directly to Venezuela.
Rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, had pledged to free four Colombian politicians: former Reps. Gloria Polanco and Orlando Beltran and ex-Sens. Luis Eladio Perez and Jorge Gechem.
The rebels were to turn the hostages over to officials sent by President Hugo Chavez's government, as they did last month with two other politicians freed by Colombia's dominant rebel band: Clara Rojas and Consuelo Gonzalez.
Venezuelan state radio said a battalion of 60 FARC guerrillas would free the four in the same place where Rojas and Gonzalez were handed over on Jan. 10, the hamlet of La Paz. It called the operation "Camino a La Paz," or Path to Peace.
"God willing they'll arrive today, and arrive well. We hope and that they can adapt themselves quickly to daily life together with their families," Daniel Polanco, the youngest of Gloria Polanco's three sons, told Colombia's Caracol radio in Caracas, Venezuela, where they awaited her.
He was 11 years old when his mother was kidnapped. "Such a kidnapping surely tears out one's insides."
His two older brothers were seized with his mother and released in 2004 after a ransom was paid and their father was later murdered, allegedly by the FARC. Polanco said they had bought their mother flowers, balloons, two or three changes of clothes and cosmetics "so she can be pretty the first days."
Aboard the helicopters were Venezuela's justice minister, Ramon Rodriguez Chacin and close Chavez collaborator Colombian Sen. Piedad Cordoba, as well as four Red Cross representatives and doctors to treat the hostages.
The FARC announced on Jan. 31 that it would release three of the hostages because they were ailing and as a gesture of recognition for the mediation efforts of Chavez, who last month called on the international community to recognize the rebels as belligerents. It later said it would free Gechem, as well.
Polanco is said to have suffered ailments including thyroid problems, while Gechem has heart, back and ulcer problems.
The rebels have proposed to trade some 40 other high-value captives _ including former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and three U.S. defense contractors _ for hundreds of imprisoned guerrillas.
But they have been unable to agree with the hardline Colombian government of President Alvaro Uribe on conditions to begin a dialogue.
"This release is very positive, but the larger hostage-for-prisoner exchange process is as stuck as ever," said Adam Isacson, Colombia analyst with the Washington, D.C.-based think thank Center for International Policy.
"With this second unilateral release, the FARC are making clear that they only want to work with Hugo Chavez, as their preferred facilitator," he added.
Uribe has ruled out Chavez as an intermediary, however.
The Venezuelan helicopters took off from the Venezuelan border town of Santo Domingo, said Yves Heller, spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Bogota.
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Associated Press writers Fabiola Sanchez in Caracas, Venezuela, and Vivian Sequera and Frank Bajak in Bogota, Colombia, contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-06-24 19:46 GMT+08:00