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Farc rebels release Colombian soldier

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Josue Daniel Calvo walked unaided from the helicopter

By Vanessa Buschschluter
BBC News, Villavicencio, Colombia

Colombia's main leftist rebel group, the Farc, has freed a soldier it kidnapped just under a year ago.

Private Josue Daniel Calvo, 22, was handed over to a humanitarian mission at a set of co-ordinates in the jungle provided by the rebels.

He was flown to Vanguardia airport in Villavicencio where he stepped off the helicopter and embraced his family.

Negotiators hope his release will be followed by that of Sergeant Pablo Emilio Moncayo on Tuesday.

Sgt Moncayo has been in captivity for 12 years.

As day dawned in Villavicencio, leader of the negotiating team Piedad Cordoba was sending out nervous messages on Twitter.

With drizzle turning into a torrential tropical downpour it looked like after a year of haggling over details of Pte Calvo's handover, the weather could pose one last obstacle.

Colombians for Peace celebrate
Colombians for Peace celebrated as the soldier was reunited with his family

But after a slight delay, the loaned Brazilian helicopters braved the rain and headed for the location chosen by Farc for the handover.

All military operations had been suspended in the area by order of the head of the Colombian armed forces so as not to endanger the captive's safety or prompt his captors to go back on their promise to hand him over.

One of the Brazilian pilots told BBC News Online that the location for the handover was a football field near Puerto Rico, in Meta province.

"A quiet area, not quite jungle, more mixed," he said before describing how gratifying it was that the mission had gone according to plan.

Cheers erupted as Pte Calvo stepped off the helicopter.

There had been serious concern about his state of health. Rebels had said they were often forced to carry him due to a leg wound he sustained during his capture.

Wheelchair shunned

Although he walked with a limp, Pte Calvo did not make use of the cane handed to him.

The wheelchair which had been brought to take him from the helicopter to a private room inside the airport was being pushed along empty.

Campaigners from Colombians for Peace waved at him with white daisies while they read out the names of some of the people still held by Farc.

After little more than an hour, the private emerged again from the private meeting with his close family, this time dressed in army uniform rather than the light blue T-shirt he had been wearing when he stepped off the helicopter.

Relatives and supporters of Josue Daniel Calvo

With his arm around his sister, he listened as his father thanked the government of President Alvaro Uribe for allowing the humanitarian mission to go ahead.

Pte Calvo did not speak during the news conference and only gave the occasional thumbs up.

Senator Piedad Cordoba, who had been on the helicopter bringing him back, said he had suffered motion sickness during the one-hour flight to Villavicencio.

He has now been taken to a military hospital in Bogota for treatment for his knee wound.

Speaking at the news conference, Colombian peace commissioner Frank Pearl said he hoped the smooth handover of Pte Calvo would bode well for the scheduled release of Sgt Moncayo on Tuesday.

Sgt Moncayo is one of the longest-held hostages in the conflict which has lasted for more than four decades.



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