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Diplomats Say Colombian Rebels to Free Hostages Friday

Foreign diplomats monitoring the planned release of three hostages held for years by Colombia's FARC rebel group say the operation will take place as early as Friday.

Venezuela's ambassador to Bogota, Pável Rondón, Thursday told Colombian radio that those involved in the operation are waiting for the arrival of an international envoy to oversee the hostages' liberation.

The FARC said earlier this month it would release the captives to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, or someone he designates.

The hostages are former Colombian lawmaker Consuelo Gonzalez, former vice presidential candidate Clara Rojas, and her young son, Emmanuel, fathered by one of her guerrilla captors.

Colombia Wednesday agreed to allow Mr. Chavez to send planes and helicopters into its territory to pick up the three hostages. But officials said the Venezuelan aircraft would have to be marked with the Red Cross emblem.

The Venezuelan leader said that when the planes cross the border, rebel leaders will designate a meeting point.

Colombia also thanked President Chavez for his government's efforts.

President Chavez was involved in hostage negotiations until Colombian President Alvaro Uribe ended the effort last month, saying the Venezuelan leader had overstepped his role as a mediator. Mr. Chavez responded by cutting diplomatic ties with Colombia.

The FARC has demanded the release of hundreds of rebels held in Colombian prisons, in return for freeing several high-profile hostages.

The rebels are still holding former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, who was kidnapped with Rojas in February 2002.

But the development involving Rojas, her son and the former lawmaker could lead to the release of other hostages, such as Betancourt.

Three Americans are also being held by the FARC. They were seized in 2003 after their plane went down in Colombia during a counter-narcotics mission.

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