Colombian rebels free four hostages

Marxist rebels freed four Colombian hostages from their "living death" in the jungle on Wednesday in a victory for Venezuela's leftist President Hugo Chavez, who brokered the deal.

Colombian rebels free four hostages
Venezuelan helicopters painted with Red Cross logos swooped into dense jungle, picked up the four lawmakers — all taken by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, more than six years ago — and flew them to Venezuela.

"I was the living dead but today ... I am happy, lucky, radiant," ex-hostage Gloria Polanco said. She carried long-stemmed flowers for her three children, adding between sobs, "It's the only thing I can take from the jungle."

The three men and one woman appeared in sound health, although one of the men, believed to have suffered heart problems, looked gaunt and walked more slowly than the others.

Flanked by armed rebels, the four trekked down a muddy slope of a jungle clearing and pumped their hands in the air to celebrate their release, images on state television showed.

Relatives waiting for their loved ones in Venezuela's capital Caracas stared at the footage, crying, holding their hands over their mouths or clenched across their chests.

The rebels often keep hostages in neck chains or shackles, and Luis Eladio Perez said his time in captivity was torture.

The release, welcomed from France to the United States, is a victory for Chavez, an important regional player who leads a growing group of socialist leaders in Latin America and often bickers with US-backed Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.

Venezuelan officials said the handover raised hopes for a broader deal to free dozens more hostages, who include French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt and three Americans whose cases have drawn worldwide attention.

Betancourt is seriously ill and treated badly by her captors, the released hostages said, pleading for international efforts to help free her.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has made Betancourt's release a policy priority, welcomed Wednesday's release and called for the rapid liberation of all hostages. The United States also urged the rebels to free all captives.


Güncelleme Tarihi: 28 Şubat 2008, 15:09