Thursday, January 10, 2008


Colombian politicians Consuelo Gonzalez (L) and Clara Rojas (2nd R) are welcomed by Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez (C) after being freed at Miraflores Palace in Caracas
January 10, 2008. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

Colombian Rebels Free Two Women Hostages
Thursday, January 10, 2008

SAN JOSE DE GUAVIARE, Colombia — Rebels freed two hostages in the remote Colombian jungle Thursday after more than five years of captivity, handing the women over to Venezuelan officials who flew them toward Caracas, where a triumphant Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez awaited.

The freed Colombians were flown by helicopter to an airstrip in the Venezuelan border town of Santo Domingo, where they were helped onto a small passenger jet that was to fly them to Caracas.

It was the most important hostage release in the Colombian conflict since 2001, when the FARC freed some 300 soldiers and police officers. Chavez said he hopes the mission opens the way for the release of more hostages.

"Venezuela will continue opening the way for peace in Colombia. We are ready, and in contact with the FARC, and we hope the Colombian government understands. I'm sure they will understand," Chavez said. "The world wants peace for Colombia."

Rojas was kidnapped in February 2002 while campaigning with Betancourt in a FARC-dominated region of southern Colombia. Gonzalez was abducted by the FARC in September 2001 near the city of Neiva. During her captivity, she lost her husband and a grandchild was born to one of her daughters.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe authorized Venezuela to spearhead the rescue mission despite a bitter clash with Chavez over his involvement in Colombia's half-century-old guerrilla conflict.

In November, Uribe abruptly ended efforts by Chavez to broker a swap of 46 high-profile hostages — including Betancourt and three U.S. defense contractors — for hundreds of jailed rebels. He accused Chavez of unauthorized direct contacts with Colombia's military.

But relatives of the hostages urged Chavez to continue, and the FARC, which deeply distrusts Uribe, rewarded his efforts by offering to release the two women and Rojas's 3-year old son, Emmanuel — who was fathered in captivity by one of her guerrilla captors.


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