Page last updated at 07:05 GMT, Monday, 2 February 2009

Colombia Farc hostages released


The hostages enjoy their first taste of freedom

Four people who had been held hostage by Colombia's left-wing Farc rebels since 2007 have been released.

A helicopter collected the three police officers and a soldier from a pre-arranged spot in the jungle and flew them to Villavicencio, east of Bogota.

They were the first captives to be unilaterally released by the rebels in almost a year.

The Farc have suffered recent setbacks as the government drives them further into mountain and jungle areas.

They have said they intend to free two politicians in the coming days.

The four were greeted by supporters waving flowers after they landed in Villavicencio.

They had been among 28 "political hostages" held by the group, which wants to use them to secure the release of some of their own jailed members.

In jeopardy

The group had been collected by a delegation from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Senator Piedad Cordoba, a left-wing politician who had helped broker the deal to free them.

They had flown into the jungle of Caqueta state to a pre-arranged spot to receive the hostages.

Jorge Botero, a journalist travelling with the mission, said earlier it had been on the verge of being aborted, a report denied by a senior government official.

Mr Botero said the army, which had agreed to cease its operations in the area for a limited period to allow the handover, had put it in jeopardy by pursuing the mission's helicopter.

"This pursuit was ordered by military commanders," Botero told Venezuelan TV. "The operation was basically on the verge of being aborted."

Colombian peace commissioner Luis Carlos Restrepo said Botero's accusations were "baseless".

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) said the release would be followed by that of a former lawmaker, Sigifredo Lopez, and a former governor, Alan Jara, by Wednesday.

Meanwhile, officials in the city of Cali have blamed the Farc for a car bomb which exploded outside a police building on Sunday, killing at least one person.

The Farc, who have been fighting the government since the 1960s, are believed to hold hundreds of hostages.

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