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Colombian Leftist Rebels Free 2 Hostages


Colombian rebels have freed two former politicians held for more than five years in secret jungle camps. VOA's Brian Wagner reports that rebels handed the women over to Venezuela's government which hopes to negotiate the release of dozens of hostages.

A Venezuelan helicopter bearing the symbol of the International Committee of the Red Cross brought the women to Venezuela following their release in the Colombian jungle. Red Cross officials said the two women, former vice presidential candidate Clara Rojas and former congresswoman Consuelo Gonzalez, appeared to be in good health.

In Caracas, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said he spoke by telephone with Rojas shortly after the release. He said he hopes the operation leads to the release of more hostages held by members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC.

Mr. Chavez said Venezuela assumes the responsibility to seek the release of other hostages, because he said he is confident he can achieve it.

The Venezuelan leader had hoped the handover would occur last month, and sent aircraft carrying international dignitaries into Colombia. Rebels called off the plan saying it was too dangerous because of Colombian military operations in the area - which Colombian officials denied.

Colombia's Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos said troops were about two kilometers from the site where rebels finally handed over the two women. He said troops in the area had agreed to halt all operations to allow the handover to take place.

Santos said the Colombian government has always shown the good will to facilitate such humanitarian operations.

FARC rebels seized Consuelo Gonzalez in September 2001 near the central city of Neiva. Clara Rojas and presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt were captured while they were campaigning in a FARC-controlled area in February 2002. Betancourt and dozens of other so-called high-value captives, including three American military contractors, remain in rebel hands.

FARC leaders also had offered to free a third hostage, the young son of Rojas who was born in captivity. But Colombian officials later confirmed the boy had been freed two years ago and was living in a foster home in Bogota.

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