Colombian rebels to free four hostages: France


Caracas (Venezuela) : Colombia’s largest leftist insurgent group has agreed to free four hostages, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has said.

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Addressing media persons at the Miraflores Palace here, Kouchner Wednesday quoted Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez as telling him the rebels had added a fourth name to the list of hostages they proposed on Jan 31 to set free, but declined to reveal the person’s identity, Spain’s EFE news agency reported Thursday.

Besides the unnamed fourth hostage, the list of persons proposed by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has on it former lawmakers Gloria Polanco, Luis Eladio Perez and Orlando Beltran. All of them have been in captivity for more than seven years.

“President Chavez told us that there is a fourth captive who would be freed, not just three, and this has pleased us very much,” Kouchner told reporters.

The Jan 31 announcement came three weeks after the rebels freed former vice presidential candidate Clara Rojas and former legislator Consuelo Gonzalez de Perdomo.

Besides these six politicians, the “exchangeables” also include nearly 50 high-profile hostages, including former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt – who holds dual French-Colombian citizenship – three US defence contractors and dozens of Colombian soldiers and police officers, whom the FARC wants to exchange for hundreds of jailed rebels.

Kouchner said last month’s release of two captives and the promise to free four others “gives great hope to the rest of the hostages and also that we’ll eventually find the road to peace” in Colombia.

He said his conversation with Chavez was “friendly” and that the two discussed about the hostages, including Betancourt, held by the FARC.

Praising the role of Venezuela in mediating with the FARC, Kouchner said he would travel Thursday to Bogota for talks with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.

Kouchner’s revelation came shortly after Colombian lawmaker Piedad Cordoba denied that she had announced the release of a fourth captive, her husband, former senator Jorge Eduardo Gechem Turbay, by the FARC.

Chavez and Cordoba spent several months last year trying to secure an agreement to swap the hostages for jailed rebels.

Though their mediation mission was terminated in November by Uribe, the pair facilitated the release of two hostages last month and are set to play a role in the FARC’s announced plans to hand over more captives.