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Last Updated: Monday, 22 December, 2003, 16:58 GMT
Timeline: Colombia hostages
Colombia
The hostages grabbed by guerrillas in the northern tip of Colombia have faced a drawn-out ordeal.

Captured in September, five remained captive with Christmas approaching.

A dramatic escape, piecemeal releases, dashed hopes and an apparent motivation by rebels to uncover rights abuses have all featured in the saga.

BBC News Online looks back at key dates in the story.


12 September: Two Britons are among eight tourists kidnapped while trekking near the Lost City (Ciudad Perdida) in Colombia.

15 Sept: A massive search operation involving thousands of Colombian troops gets underway as the news is made public. The rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) are blamed at first, but it later emerges that the National Liberation Army (ELN) is responsible. Mr Henderson's father Christopher, 59, from Pateley Bridge, North Yorkshire, speaks of the family's shock upon hearing of the news.

HOSTAGES ORIGINALLY TAKEN:
Britons: Matthew Scott (escaped), Mark Henderson
German: Reinhilt Weigel (released)
Israelis: Beni Daniel, Ortaz Ohayon, Ido Joseph Guy, Erez Altawil
Spaniard: Asier Huegun (released)
16 Sept: Tourists left behind by the kidnappers describe the moment they arrived, and explain how inappropriate footwear and lack of fitness probably saved them from being taken.

23 Sept: One of the British hostages, Matthew Scott, 18, escapes while on a forced walk through the jungle and is later picked up by the Colombian army. He is suffering exhaustion, dehydration, sunburn and cuts after surviving on only river water in the jungle. His father speaks of the family's delight and relief at his safe escape.

26 Sept: Mr Scott is reunited with his family in Britain. At a press conference at Heathrow Airport, he says: "I would like to say thank you to the indigenous people and the Colombian army.

"I am very concerned for the other hostages. They are not just names and faces to me."

8 October: Colombian guerrillas reportedly claim that that they would be prepared to consider an exchange of the hostages for rebels held in prison.

27 Oct: The Catholic Church in Colombia offers to mediate in the kidnap crisis. It later says the ELN will release the tourists if certain conditions are met.

31 Oct: Church mediators say negotiations have hit deadlock over whether the hostages should be released in one go, or one by one, as the kidnappers insist.

12 November: Mr Henderson says in a video message that being in captivity for two months has driven him to take up smoking again.

Mark Henderson
Briton Mark Henderson took up smoking again during his time as a captive
He adds: "It has been almost eight weeks now and also I would like to say to the governments of both England and Colombia that it may be just another day for you lot but it's 24 hours in my life here."

25 Nov: Two hostages, German woman Reinhilt Weigel and Spanish man Asier Huegen Echeverria, are released.

Unusually, the rebels demand no ransom. Instead, they release the two hostages three days after a delegation of Church and human rights officials arrive in the area to investigate what rebels term the oppression of indigenous people by right-wing paramilitaries in the area.

9 December: The ELN says it is suspending the release of the remaining hostages, blaming increased army activity in the area. Mr Henderson's mother, Sharelle, speaks of her "bitter disappointment".

18 Dec: Mediators urge the government to halt army activity in the area for at least a few hours to facilitate a handover.

20 Dec: A Church negotiator raises fresh hopes that the hostages will be released before Christmas.

22 Dec: The five remaining captives, including Mr Henderson, are finally released, the Foreign Office confirms.

The Briton's parents tell the assembled press of their "sheer joy" and say they "can't wait to see him". Mr Henderson is flown by helicopter to a regional airport in Colombia. The Hendersons hope to be reunited in Britain on Christmas Eve.


SEE ALSO:
'Christmas release' for hostages
20 Dec 03  |  England
Mediators plea for Colombia truce
18 Dec 03  |  Americas
Rebels make new release promise
16 Dec 03  |  North Yorkshire
Blow to hostage Briton's family
09 Dec 03  |  Americas
Colombia rebels free two hostages
25 Nov 03  |  Americas
Colombia kidnap demand met
23 Nov 03  |  Americas
Colombia hostages shown on video
12 Nov 03  |  Americas


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