Colombian rebels to continue hostage release Wednesday


BOGOTA, AFP

An operation to free at least 16 hostages in mountain terrain near Cali was put on hold until Wednesday, just after the rebel National Liberation Army (ELN) released a smaller group of captives, Colombia’s state news agency Ancol said. Late Tuesday, the leftist ELN had released two men, Juan Humberto Reyes and Aldemar Rojas, and a woman, Sandra Patricia Londono, to a humanitarian group in forest-covered mountains near Cali, some 475 kilometers (300 miles) southwest of the capital. The handover had been arranged with the Colombian authorities, after the ELN, the nation’s second largest guerrilla force, pledged to free all those seized during a mass kidnapping on September 17. An unspecified number of people kidnapped in other hostage-takings are believed to be included in the group awaiting release. “The humanitarian commission responsible for receiving the released hostages will stay during Tuesday night in a zone of the mountains close to the city of Cali to continue Wednesday with the release process for the hostages,” an official statement read. The announcement came as night fell in the Andean region. Earlier Tuesday, authorities announced that the army had agreed to observe a 24-hour ceasefire in the mountains near Cali so as to facilitate the hostage release. Colombia’s high commissioner for peace, Camilo Gomez, said in a statement that after the release, the ELN and government representatives would meet “to resume talks aimed at setting a date for the start of a peace process.” The hostages were due to have been released “during a single day, in two separate actions,” Gomez had said earlier. Observers from Cuba, France, Norway, Spain and Switzerland were to monitor the releases, he added, and the army would leave the designated area “after the hostages are set free.” “For that, a period of 24 hours has been set aside, during which there will be no military action.” ELN guerrillas took some 80 people captive in the September 17 kidnapping outside Cali. Until Tuesday up to 21 still remained in captivity, with their kidnappers admitting publicly that all of them had health problems. The ELN announced Sunday it would set the hostages free the same day, but bad weather prevailed in the southeastern Valle mountains and stretched into Monday, preventing rescue helicopters from landing. Two hostages died last week in captivity, and a third died on October 10, three days after the rebels released him, seriously ill. Rebels freed another three hostages on Saturday, also for health reasons.