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Colombian rebels free 4 more hostage into Venezuelan custody

Colombian rebels free 4 more hostage into Venezuelan custody

Colombian rebels handed four hostages over to the International Red Cross and Venezuela's interior minister on Wednesday, ending more than six years of captivity.
The four Colombian politicians were freed in a clearing in Colombia's southern jungles around midday. Two Venezuelan helicopters with doctors aboard were flying them directly to the bordering Andean country.
"It's a very important day for the Colombian people and for these four freed people," Barbara Hintermann, the Red Cross' director for Colombia, told reporters in Bogota in announcing the handover.
President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, into whose custody they were released, spoke with them by phone after they were freed, said Jesse Chacon, a top aide to the president.
"They are safe and sound," Chacon said.
Hintermann said the helicopters would fly to the Venezuelan border town of Santo Domingo. The freed hostages would then fly on to Caracas, the capital, to be reunited with their families.
"It appears that they are in good enough health to travel to Caracas," Hintermann said.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, announced on Jan. 31 that it planned to free three of the hostages _ former Reps. Gloria Polanco and Orlando Beltran and ex-Sen. Luis Eladio Perez, and said they were ailing. Ex-Sen. Jorge Gechem was later added to the group.
Polanco is said to have suffered ailments including thyroid problems, while Gechem has heart, back and ulcer problems.
The FARC freed the four in the same region where it freed two other politicians on Jan. 10: Clara Rojas and Consuelo Gonzalez. Venezuelan state radio called the operation "Camino a La Paz," or Path to Peace.
"Such a kidnapping surely tears out one's insides," 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.
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 interior 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 had called its planned release of the hostages a gesture of recognition for the mediation efforts of Chavez, who last month called on the international community to recognize the rebels as belligerents.
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 : 2021-04-20 23:57 GMT+08:00