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Last Updated: Friday, 11 January 2008, 07:39 GMT
Family reunions for Farc hostages
Consuelo Gonzalez at Simon Bolivar International Airport
Ms Gonzalez urged Mr Chavez not to give up on the other hostages
Two Colombian women hostages freed by the Farc rebel group have been reunited with their families at an airport near the Venezuelan capital, Caracas.

Consuelo Gonzalez met her granddaughter for the first time, while Clara Rojas said she felt she was being born again.

The hostages brought with them proof of life of another 16 of the political prisoners still in guerrilla hands.

Later, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe repeated his call to the Farc to hold direct talks with his government.

Mr Uribe read out the names of some of the more than 700 people still held by the left-wing group.

His Venezuelan counterpart, Hugo Chavez, who helped mediate the releases, said he would be willing to help with future negotiations.

Mr Chavez was involved in negotiations between the Farc and Colombia for months until he was told he had overstepped his mandate in November.

'Living again'

The two hostages were flown out of the Colombian jungle by helicopter on Thursday after more than five years in captivity, in an operation overseen by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Military operations in three areas in the south-eastern state of Guaviare were suspended to allow the handover to take place. Colombian Defence Minister Juan Manuel Santos said his troops watched as the helicopters landed 2km from a base.

After flying to a border town in Venezuela, the women boarded a plane to be taken to an airport near Caracas for the final handover and an emotional reunion with their families.

Clara Rojas meets her mother at Simon Bolivar International Airport
Ms Rojas said being freed was like being reborn

"We are being reborn!" Clara Rojas said, as she was reunited with her elderly mother, Clara Gonzalez de Rojas, who was tearful as she hugged her daughter.

Ms Gonzalez was reunited with her two daughters and also met her two year-old granddaughter for the first time.

"This is like living again," she said. "Sometimes I think it's a dream."

In a brief statement, Ms Gonzalez thanked Mr Chavez by satellite phone for his role in her release and praised his "commitment to human beings".

Ms Gonzalez, 57, was kidnapped in 2001. Ms Rojas, 44, an aide to former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, was seized in 2002, while she and Ms Betancourt were out campaigning.

Ms Rojas told Colombia's Caracol radio network she had had no news in three years of Ms Betancourt, who is still in captivity. She said they had been split up by the rebels for security reasons.

The two women said the Farc had given Venezuelan authorities proof, including letters and videos, that 16 other hostages were alive.

Ms Rojas said the evidence would be given to Mr Chavez, who would pass it on to the hostages' families.

I told them both: 'Welcome to life'
Hugo Chavez
Venezuelan president

A similar attempt to arrange the release of the two women was called off last month amid recriminations between the rebels and the Colombian government.

In December, the Farc promised to release the women and Ms Rojas's three-year-old son, Emmanuel, believed to have been fathered by one of the rebel captors.

But the rebels accused the Colombian government of sabotaging the hostage release by continuing military operations in the area.

The government said the Farc backed out of the deal because they no longer held the young boy, who was found to be living in a foster home in Bogota.

President Uribe told Ms Rojas on Thursday that she would soon be reunited with her son.

BBC Americas analyst Warren Bull says the get-together will provide Mr Uribe with a Chavez-style media opportunity of his own as he seeks to reassert his power over the negotiations.

'Bigger picture'

In a televised address, Mr Uribe did not hesitate to thank the Venezuelan leader for his contribution so far, but reading from a list of more than 700 hostages still held by the Farc, he reminded his audience that there was a bigger picture.

He called on the rebels to accept his government's offer of a "meeting point" in a safe zone and said the talks should be simple and take place in good faith.

ICRC helicopters in San Jose del Guaviare before the exchange
ICRC helicopters flew the women to Venezuela

"Peace is achievable through firm, democratic security policies. Peace is not achievable by appeasing the terrorists," he warned.

But our correspondent says the Farc will want any further hostage releases to be part of an exchange, involving hundreds of their own jailed rebels, and in a much larger demilitarised zone.

Reacting to the release, the Venezuelan leader said his country would "continue opening the way for peace in Colombia".

"We are ready and in contact with the Farc, and we hope the Colombian government understands. I'm sure they will," he added.

Mr Chavez urged Mr Uribe to let him meet the rebel group's commander, Manuel Marulanda, for talks as soon as possible.

"I get in a helicopter, and in three hours I'm talking with Marulanda. Permit it," he said.

VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
The freed hostages arriving in Venezuela





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