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Colombia Farc rebels release hostage Pablo Moncayo

31 March 10 02:39 GMT

A Colombian soldier held hostage in the jungle by left-wing rebels for 12 years has been freed.

Sgt Pablo Emilio Moncayo, who was 19 when he was seized by Farc guerrillas, was handed over to a humanitarian mission deep in the southern jungle.

He was later reunited with family members in the city of Florencia.

The soldier's plight came to national attention in 2007, when his father, Gustavo, walked in chains across the country to campaign for his release.

As Sgt Moncayo stepped off a helicopter in uniform to greet family on the tarmac, he said: "I thank God and my father. You have no idea how staggering it is to return to civilisation."

Presidential welcome

The rescue mission included delegates from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Senator Piedad Cordoba and Bishop Leonardo Gomez Serna.

They had been flown to a location agreed with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc).

Reacting to the release, President Alvaro Uribe said: "We welcome back Sgt Moncayo... Colombia receives with open arms all those who return from captivity and strongly condemns their kidnappers."

The Farc have been fighting the Colombian state for more than four decades and currently hold some 20 police officers and soldiers.

They released another soldier, Pte Josue Daniel Calvo, on Sunday after nearly a year of captivity.

But they say no more hostages will be freed until the government agrees to negotiate.

Mr Uribe, who has pursued a hard-line security policy, has indicated he will consider exchanging hundreds of jailed rebels for the hostages, but only if freed guerrillas do not rejoin rebel ranks.

As well as the high-profile hostages from the security forces, hundreds of Colombians have been kidnapped over the years by armed groups and drug-trafficking gangs, sometimes for political reasons but often for ransom.

According to a government body, Fondelibertad, 79 were known to be in captivity as of February, including the Farc hostages and those held by other armed groups as well as criminal gangs.

But non-governmental organisations working to combat kidnapping say this figure is too low.

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