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Monday, 9 September, 2002, 07:10 GMT 08:10 UK
Colombia rebels release tourists
Released hostages Adriana de los Santos and Oscar Hernandez
The hostages had been held in the jungle

Colombian rebels of the National Liberation Army (ELN) have released 10 of the 27 tourists they kidnapped last month.

They have promised that the remainder will be freed in the next few days.

But it has been announced that one of the hostages has died in captivity.

Whilst no official statement has come from the group, it seems the kidnapping operation was not for ransom but to send a message to the new hard-line government of President Alvaro Uribe.

Going home

Ten households in Colombia rushed to prepare welcome home parties for their loved ones, four women and six men, as they were released by the Marxist ELN.

Alvaro Uribe
Uribe says he will take a tough line
Snatched last month in a daring mass kidnapping operation, the ELN herded 27 tourists enjoying the fishing and beaches of Choco, on the Pacific coast, into captivity in the jungle.

Normally, kidnappings, of which there is an average of one every three hours in Colombia, are about ransoms.

The guerrillas are the main kidnappers and they use the ransoms - estimated to run at over $100m a year - to finance their 38-year war on the state.

But the ELN has released these hostages with a promise to free all those taken in the latest operation without charging ransom as a humanitarian gesture.

Sending a message

For "humanitarian gesture" read "political gesture" as analysts here see the ELN sending a clear message to President Uribe.

He has pledged to crack down on the warring factions, has instituted an unprecedented set of security measures and is pouring money into strengthening the country's battered armed forces.

The ELN, which has been searching for a peace agreement since 1997, is seeking to prod the new government into agreeing to its terms for a peace process.

If not, the guerrillas have shown they can make life very difficult for the government, escalating their kidnapping and terrorising the civilian population.

But President Uribe has his sights set on fighting the rebels, not talking to them.

Former President Andres Pastrana tried that with the larger rebel group, the FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, and got nowhere.

President Uribe has said he will talk to the rebels but it will be on his terms, and those seem to be with a rifle pressed to their heads.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jeremy McDermott
"it wasn't so much a humanitarian gesture as a political one"

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