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Colombian FARC Rebels Free Four Hostages


Colombian FARC rebels have released four hostages to the International Red Cross in a mission marred by accusations of military interference.

The Red Cross said Sunday the FARC had handed over three police officers and one soldier who had been held for more than a year. It was the FARC's first unilateral release of hostages in nearly one year.

A Brazilian helicopter emblazoned with the Red Cross symbol retrieved the freed hostages from the jungle and flew to the Colombian city of Villavicencio, where the four were met with hugs, applause and white flowers.

A journalist accompanying the mission reported that military flights over the jungle had complicated and delayed the handover. The Colombian government called the allegations unfounded. The hostages are among six captives the FARC said it would release this week.

Later Monday, the rebels are expected to release Alan Jara, a former governor kidnapped in 2001. Former lawmaker Sigifredo Lopez is expected to be freed on Wednesday. Lopez was abducted in 2002.`

The rebels are believed to be holding hundreds of other people in jungle hideouts for ransom or political leverage.

The FARC is Colombia's most powerful rebel group. It has been designated as a terrorist organization by Colombia, the European Union and the United States.

Last year, the FARC was dealt a blow when government soldiers posing as members of a humanitarian group freed 15 prominent hostages, including French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt and three American citizens.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.


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