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FARC rebels free four hostages

A hostage release mission is to go ahead after Colombia agreed to let a left-wing senator accompany the Red Cross to the handover by FARC rebels. On Sunday, four hostages were released after a year-long captivity.


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

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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