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Last Updated: Saturday, 6 January 2007, 01:14 GMT
Colombian minister flees captors
Video grab from a tape showing Fernando Araujo supposedly recorded and released by the Farc
Mr Araujo was kidnapped by the Farc in December 2000

A Colombian ex-minister held hostage for more than six years by left-wing guerrillas has escaped after a military operation to secure his release.

A number of rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) are said to have been killed.

Fernando Araujo was one of 59 high profile hostages held by the Farc as potential bargaining chips for a prisoner exchange with the government.

He is on his way to be reunited with his family in the city of Cartagena.

Video

The former development minister escaped from a rebel camp in the north of the country as Farc rebels battled troops, Defence Minister Juan Manuel Santos said.

I escaped... with only the clothes I was wearing
Fernando Araujo
former hostage
Mr Araujo, he added, was in good health, and the offensive in a rural part of the department of Bolivar was continuing.

Mr Araujo said he was the only hostage in the camp and had made a "decision of life and death" to flee when the gunfight began.

He said: "I escaped... with only the clothes I was wearing, not a drop of water, without a blanket, without a machete - only with my fingernails to find the route that would return me to freedom."

President Alvaro Uribe said an informant had led troops to the camp.

The last time Mr Araujo's family had heard he was alive was in December 2005, when the Farc released a video in which he called on the government to agree to a prisoner exchange.

He had been captured in December 2000, while jogging on the beach in Cartagena, his home town.

Mr Araujo served under President Andres Pastrana who governed from 1998 to 2002.

The Farc is the largest of the left-wing rebel groups in Colombia.

It has been fighting state forces and right-wing paramilitaries in a long-running conflict in which kidnapping, extortion and drug trafficking have played a major part.

Tens of thousands of civilians have been killed.


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