Tuesday, August 10, 1999 Published at 06:50 GMT 07:50 UK
Venezuelan hijack passengers released
Pilot Hector Hernandez (left) shortly after his release
By Jeremy McDermott in Bogota
Eight passengers from a Venezuelan plane hijacked at the end of last month have been released by Colombian guerrillas.
The plane and two pilots were released on Sunday.
President Hugo Chavez appeared on television thanking the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, for their humanitarian gesture in releasing the plane, passengers and crew, skipping over the question of who was responsible for the hijack.
The pilot of the plane told a different story, saying the hijackers greeted the guerrillas warmly and stayed with the group for several days in the FARC camp.
Colombian authorities maintain that the FARC did carry out the hijacking, then, realising the public relations disaster it entailed and the potential damage it could do to relations with Venezuela, concocted the story of the hijacking having been committed by opponents of the Venezuelan President.
With this incident, President Chavez has again revealed his sympathy for the guerrilla movement and has made no secret of his eagerness to play a role in the peace process between the FARC and the Colombian Government.
His stance, however, is unlikely to endear him to the Colombian authorities.
The peace process is frozen and public support for the FARC almost non-existent as they have responded to government concessions by escalating the war and taking kidnapping to an all-time high.