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Sunday, 5 March, 2000, 21:35 GMT
Colombian cyclist released unharmed
Herrera
Mr Herrera walked for seven hours to reach home
Former Colombian cycling champion Luis Herrera has been released by kidnappers - only 24 hours after his abduction.

The Colombian authorities said he was in good health, but gave no indication of whether his family had paid a ransom for his release.

Mr Herrera, who is a national hero, told RCN radio that the kidnappers freed him after seeing television reports showing a massive military search and rescue operation.

No group had said it was responsible for the abduction, but police officials say the area is a stronghold of Colombia's largest guerrilla faction, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Mr Herrera, 38, said his captors treated him well, but he was forced to hike for seven hours through the mountains to return home.

He had been abducted from his family's farm, about 60 kilometres (40 miles) south-west of Bogota on Saturday morning.

Seven gunmen, travelling in two vehicles, bundled the former champion into the back of a vehicle and sped off in an unknown direction.

Mr Herrera won the Colombian tour, La Vuelta a Colombia, on five occasions - as well as the tour of Spain in 1987 and several stages of the Tour de France in 1989.

Spate of kidnappings

His kidnapping followed the abduction of Oliverio Rincon, another well known Colombian cyclist.

Mr Rincon was held for 10 days by National Liberation Army (ELN) rebels before being released.

ELN rebels also kidnapped about 25 electrical workers in northwest Colombia on Friday.

Colombia has the reputation of being the kidnap capital of the world.

The ELN and the FARC have a long history of using ransom payments to help finance their war against the state.

There was a record total of nearly 3,000 kidnappings across Colombia last year - or eight a day.

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24 Dec 99 |  Americas
Colombia 'kidnap capital of world'
20 Sep 99 |  Americas
Kidnapped Briton 'alive and well'
29 Nov 99 |  Americas
Journalists killed in Colombia
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