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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 November, 2003, 08:47 GMT
Colombia rebels free two hostages
Freed hostages Reinhilt Weigel of Germany (left) and Asier Huegun Echeverria of Spain speak on phones
The hostages were able to make phone calls following their release
Colombian rebels have released two of the seven foreign tourists they have been holding since September.

The leftist National Liberation Army (ELN) freed Asier Huegun of Spain and Reinhilt Weigel of Germany.

The rebels say the other five, Briton Mark Henderson and four Israelis, will be released before Christmas.

Roman Catholic church leader Rev Dario Echeverri, who witnessed the handover, said he trusted the ELN to honour their pledge to free the others.

Lifted to freedom

The two freed hostages arrived at the airport of Valledupar in the northern province of Cesar after being picked up by helicopter in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

STILL BEING HELD
Israelis Beni Daniel, Ortaz Ohayon, Ido Joseph Guy, and Erez Altawil
Briton Mark Henderson
Both spoke on mobile phones after they got off the helicopter.

The Colombian Government, helped by Roman Catholic Church mediators, has been trying to negotiate the release of the hostages for weeks.

Earlier negotiations stalled over the rebels' refusal to release all the hostages at once.

Last month the ELN - Colombia's second-largest rebel group - released a video of the hostages, threatening to kill them if a rescue was attempted.

The father of the British hostage, Christopher Henderson, said Monday's release was "one more step" towards securing the freedom of his TV producer son Mark, originally from Lincoln.

Colombia

Another Briton, Matthew Scott, was abducted with the others on 12 September, but escaped soon after the kidnapping.

Unusually, no ransoms were demanded for the foreigners, the BBC's Jeremy McDermott reports from Medellin.

Instead, the hostage-takers are demanding an investigation into what they call the oppression of indigenous people by right-wing paramilitaries in the area.

On Saturday, officials from the Roman Catholic Church and human rights groups arrived in the Sierra Nevada mountains to look into the rebels' allegations.

The remaining five hostages are believed to be held in separate locations to help prevent them being rescued.

Despite the negotiations by church mediators, Colombian security forces are still intent on rescuing the remaining hostages and killing their captors.

Body found

In a separate case, the army believe they have found the body of a Japanese man kidnapped by another group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), over two years ago.

Chikao Muramatsu was seized in February 2001 in a street in the capital, Bogota.

He was the vice-president of a local subsidiary of Japanese car parts manufacturer, Yazaki.

A military commander said a body had been found west of Bogota, dressed in military camouflage with several bullet wounds.

The FARC rebels "decided to commit murder after discovering the presence of troops in the area," said General Carlos Alberto Ospina.

A ransom of $10m-$25m was reportedly demanded for his release.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Jeremy McDermott
"They were in good spirit and reasonable health considering the conditions of their captivity"



SEE ALSO:
Colombia kidnap demand met
23 Nov 03  |  Americas
Colombia hostages shown on video
12 Nov 03  |  Americas
Colombia hostage talks deadlocked
31 Oct 03  |  Americas
Colombia rebels may free Spaniard
20 Oct 03  |  Americas
Father talks of kidnapped son
16 Sep 03  |  North Yorkshire
Country profile: Colombia
12 Jul 03  |  Country profiles


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