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Colombian Rebels Free Four Politicians


Colombian rebels have handed over four politicians held hostage for more than six years to a Venezuelan-led recovery team. VOA's Brian Wagner reports from Miami the four were taken to Venezuela to be reunited with their families.

Helicopters carrying Venezuelan officials and Red Cross workers picked up the four hostages in a jungle clearing in southern Colombia. Officials said the four were former lawmakers Gloria Polanco, Orlando Beltran, Luis Eladio Perez and Jorge Gechem.

The director of Red Cross in Colombia, Barbara Hinterman, said the four appeared to be in good health for the flight to Caracas.

Hinterman said it was a very important day for Colombia and for the families of the freed hostages.

Venezuela's government and Red Cross workers led a similar effort last month to recover two other politicians freed by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a self-declared marxist group known as FARC.

Adam Isacson is an expert on Colombia at the Center for International Policy in Washington. He says FARC leaders are pursuing the hostage releases in an effort to pressure Colombia's government to free jailed rebels.

"They have been holding 44 people, with that demand, cruelly in the jungle for a long time," he said. "Of those 44, 11 of them are civilians."

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez played a key role last year in pressuring the rebels to begin releasing hostages as part of an effort to end the decades-long conflict in Colombia. He has called for the United States and others to remove the FARC from lists of terrorist organizations.

Isacson says the Venezuelan leader's efforts have backfired, especially in Colombia. He says support is soaring for Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe, who has taken a hard line on the rebels.

"It has caused people to rally around the [Colombian] president and rally around the government, because all of a sudden there is a possible external enemy like there has never been before," he noted.

Earlier this month, tens of thousands of Colombians marched to protest the rebels and their use of violence and kidnapping in the country.

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