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Colombian Rebels Promise to Release British, Israeli Hostages - 2003-12-20

Colombian rebels holding five foreign tourists captive since September have promised to release the hostages Monday or Tuesday.

The National Liberation Army, the ELN, has told Colombian radio that the hostages will be freed in what it described as a "high risk" environment. A rebel commander also was quoted as saying the ELN has committed itself and will honor its word.

The development comes more than a week after the ELN said it had suspended plans to free the four Israelis and one Briton by Christmas. The leftist guerrillas cited ongoing military operations in the remote jungle area where the foreigners are being held.

The hostages were among eight tourists kidnapped September 12 in Colombia's northern Sierra Nevada mountains. One hostage, a Briton, managed to escape. A German and Spaniard were released in late November.

Meanwhile, the Colombian army's new commander says he will resign, if within a year he does not capture or kill at least one top leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia - the country's largest rebel group.

In an interview with the Associated Press, General Martin Orlando Carreno said that if U.S. troops managed to find Saddam Hussein in foreign, hostile Iraq, Colombian troops should be able to track down top rebel commanders in their own homeland.

General Carreno said capturing or killing top rebel leaders is his number one priority. "If we can cut off the head, the body falls down," he said.

The FARC rebels control wide sections of Colombia's mountains and dense jungles, where they have hidden for nearly 40 years. Under President Alvaro Uribe, the government has started attacking rebel strongholds.