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Wednesday, 31 July, 2002, 06:26 GMT 07:26 UK
FARC frees hostages in 'PR exercise'
Hostage Jay Riddell  in a family photo
Jay Riddell and two others were held for over three months

Colombian guerrillas have released two Canadians and a Frenchman who were kidnapped when their helicopter landed in rebel-dominated territory.

The rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) released the men without ransom in what they termed a humanitarian gesture, and observers said was a public relations exercise.

Frenchman Pierre Galipon and two Canadians, Gilles Pregent and Jay Riddell, were handed over to members of the International Red Cross and diplomats from the two countries.

It is very unusual for FARC guerrillas to hand over their kidnap victims without demanding payment.

Prized foreigners

The three had fallen into guerrilla hands in April when they were forced by bad weather to land the helicopter they were travelling in.

Unluckily for them, they landed in guerrilla-dominated southern Colombia and were intercepted by rebels before they had a chance to take off again.

Foreigners are particularly prized as kidnap targets, as it's perceived that they fetch higher ransoms.

The rebels use the money to fund their 38-year war against the state.

But since the terrorist attacks of 11 September, FARC have found themselves internationally isolated.

They now feature not only on the United States terrorism list but also that of Europe, which has traditionally been sympathetic to the struggle of the Marxist rebels.

No amount of FARC public relations is going to change the fact that their bitter enemy, Alvaro Uribe, is due to take up the Colombian presidency in just over a week.

Standing at his shoulder is the US, which will allow the use of more than a billion dollars of American military aid to help the beleaguered Colombian government take the offensive against the rebels.


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24 Jul 02 | Americas
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