FARC rebels free four hostages

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REUTERS – Colombia’s government said it would allow a left-wing senator to take part in a planned hostage release alongside a Red Cross delegation on Monday, easing doubts about whether the mission would go ahead.

FARC rebels freed four hostages on Sunday in the first of three prisoner releases planned this week but complaints of military harassment during the handover cast doubt on the release of two politicians held for years in jungle camps.

“The president has agreed to a request by the Red Cross for Sen. Piedad Cordoba to accompany them in the release of hostages,” an official statement said.

Cordoba helped broker the release of six politicians early last year and is one of few Colombian political figures to maintain contact with Latin America’s oldest insurgency.

It is the first time the guerrillas have offered to free captives in a year and the handovers have prompted speculation the weakened rebels will free more captives in an effort to win back lost political capital.

Monday’s international Red Cross mission plans to pick up former local governor Alan Jara, who was kidnapped more than seven years ago as he traveled back from the opening of a new bridge in the central province of Meta.

A third operation is due to take place on Wednesday to free a former lawmaker from the jungle near the Pacific coast.

The politicians’ handovers appeared in doubt when President Alvaro Uribe suspended the involvement of the commission led by Cordoba, who has helped broker past hostage releases.

The move followed statements by members of her civilian commission that Sunday’s release had been delayed by military operations.

The government denied the charge, though Uribe acknowledged military aircraft had flown over the area of the releases.

The handovers were further complicated by a car bomb late on Sunday outside a police office in the city of Cali, killing at least two people and wounding 39 in an attack authorities blamed on the FARC.

The FARC, once a powerful army of 17,000 that held large swaths of Colombia, has been driven back into remote mountains and jungles after Uribe sent troops to retake control and crush their 4-decade-old insurgency.

The FARC was battered last year by the deaths of three commanders, desertions and the rescue in July of a group of high-profile captives it hoped to use as bargaining chips, including three Americans and a French-Colombian lawmaker.


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