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Colombian rebel group ELN releases six hostages, says ICRC

© AFP/File | President Ivan Duque over the weekend demanded the release of "all" hostages held by the rebels to resume the talks started under the previous government of Juan Manuel Santos, in Cuba

BOGOTA (AFP) - 

Colombia's ELN rebels Wednesday freed six people they kidnapped in August, a government precondition for returning to peace talks, the International Committee of the Red Cross said.

"Today in Choco, we were with the humanitarian commission that facilitated the release of the six people who had been held by the ELN since August. We are pleased that they will be able to meet with their families soon," the group said on Twitter.

The group -- three policemen, a soldier and two civilian contractors abducted by the guerrillas August 3 -- were handed over to a humanitarian commission made up of the Ombudsman, the ICRC and the Roman Catholic Church.

President Ivan Duque over the weekend demanded the release of "all" hostages held by the rebels to resume the talks started under the previous government of Juan Manuel Santos, in Cuba.

The government says the ELN kidnapped 18 people between 2012 and September 2018 -- minus these six freed and three more released last week. At least nine remain.

Duque, which took office on August 7 with the promise of toughening conditions on the negotiations, also wants the ELN to stop criminal actions to resume peace talks. They could end a half a century of armed conflict.

The ELN is Colombia's last guerrilla force. The larger FARC -- Revolutionary Armed forces of Colombia -- has disarmed and become a political party.

© 2018 AFP