Colombia’s FARC rebels release four hostages


Villavicencio (Colombia) : Colombia’s Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla group has released three police officers and a soldier it had been holding hostage, EFE reported Monday.

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The four security forces members, who were kidnapped by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in 2007, were handed over to the mission led by opposition Senator Piedad Cordoba, activist and writer Ivan Cepeda, a spokesman for the non-governmental organization Colombianos por la Paz said.

William Giovanny Dominguez Castro, a soldier kidnapped Jan 20, 2007, and police officers Walter Jose Lozano Guarnizo, Alexis Torres Zapata and Juan Fernando Galicia Uribe, members of an anti-kidnapping unit abducted June 9, 2007, were released by the guerrilla group.

Cordoba and the other members of her delegation welcomed the men aboard helicopters provided by Brazil.

The four men appear to be in good health and spoke with their families by telephone, Cepeda said.

“The FARC should release all the hostages, that’s what the country is asking, that’s what the entire world is asking,” Peace Commissioner Luis Carlos Restrepo told reporters in Villavicencio, located 120 km from Bogota.

The helicopters carrying Cordoba and the other members of the humanitarian mission took off in bad weather Sunday morning.

Cordoba, designated by the FARC as coordinator of the mission, was accompanied by three Red Cross representatives, as well as by writers and journalists Daniel Samper Pizano and Jorge Enrique Botero, and human rights activist Olga Amaparo Sanchez.

The FARC, Colombia’s oldest and largest leftist guerrilla group, said in December that it would release former Governor Alan Jara and former provincial legislator Sigifredo Lopez, who are the only civilians it is still holding hostage, along with three police officers and a soldier.

The release of Jara, the former governor of Meta, is scheduled for Monday, while erstwhile Valle del Cauca province lawmaker Sigifredo Lopez is to be freed Tuesday or Wednesday.

Jara has been held hostage since 2001 and Lopez since 2002.

The FARC, a Marxist rebel army that has fought a decades-old struggle against a succession of Colombian governments, holds some hostages for political leverage and others in hopes their families will pay for their release.

The guerrilla group suffered a series of blows last year, with the biggest coming July 2, 2008, when the Colombian army rescued former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, US military contractors Thomas Howes, Keith Stansell and Marc Gonsalves, and 11 other Colombian police officers and soldiers.

The FARC had been trying to trade the 15 captives, along with 25 other “exchangeables”, for hundreds of jailed guerrillas.

The FARC is on both the US and European Union’s lists of terrorist groups. Drug trafficking, extortion and kidnapping-for-ransom are the FARC’s main means of financing its operations.