Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Colombian rebels to release more hostages

CNN.- Leftist rebels in Colombia plan to release four hostages this week whom they have held for several years, senior officials in Venezuela and Colombia said.

Angela de Perez, wife of hostage Luis Eladio Perez, hugs Venezuelan official Ramon Rodriguez on Monday.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, plans to release the hostages Wednesday morning, Venezuelan Interior and Justice Minister Ramon Rodriguez said Monday. His comments were reported by the Bolivarian News Agency, which is based in Venezuela.

The four hostages are former Colombian legislators: former Sen. Luis Eladio Perez and former Reps. Gloria Polanco, Orlando Beltran and Jorge Gechem, The Associated Press reported.

In Colombia, Army Cmdr. Mario Montoya said his government has given all necessary security guarantees for the hostage handoff to take place. He said that no Colombian military operations will take place near where the hostages may be freed, according to a report on a Colombian government Web site.

The four former legislators are among an estimated 750 hostages the FARC has held, many for several years, in the jungles of Colombia.

The rebel force released two hostages last month in a deal brokered by President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, whose left-wing political philosophy is not far from that of the FARC, a force that was organized in the 1960s as a Marxist army intent on overthrowing the Colombian government.

The United States, the European Union and Colombia call the FARC a terrorist organization. They have resisted calls from Venezuela to lift that label in light of last month's release of the two hostages: a former Colombian congresswoman and a former candidate for the vice presidency. They had been held for about six years.

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Days after the FARC released them amid widespread news coverage, the rebels kidnapped six tourists whose boat had come ashore on Colombia's Pacific Coast.

The Venezuelan government knows the coordinates where it plans to retrieve the four, Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez and Montoya said that both of their governments have been coordinating with the International Committee of the Red Cross, which Rodriguez said will "ensure the hostages' health at the moment of their delivery."

The FARC has justified hostage-taking as a legitimate military tactic in a long-running and complex civil war that also has involved right-wing paramilitaries, government forces and drug traffickers.

Perhaps the highest-profile captive in FARC custody is Ingrid Betancourt, a French-Colombian citizen and former candidate for the Colombian presidency. She was kidnapped February 23, 2002, after she and a campaign manager ventured into rebel-held territory despite warnings from the Colombian military. The FARC released her campaign manager last month.

Three U.S. citizens have been in FARC custody for more than five years. They are defense contractors who fell into rebel hands after their plane went down during a drug-eradication flight in 2003

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