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Colombian rebels set free four hostages

COLOMBIA'S FARC rebels have freed three police officers and a soldier held hostage for more than a year, handing them over to the International Red Cross on Sunday in the country's southern jungles.

A Brazilian military helicopter, emblazoned with the Red Cross insignia, retrieved the four hostages and flew them to a provincial airport in Colombia's eastern plains.

But their handover was marred by accusations that Colombia's military interfered. A reporter who accompanied the mission, Jorge Enrique Botero, said the military hounded and delayed the mission by more than two hours with numerous flyovers.

Analysts consider the unconditional releases, the first in nearly a year, a goodwill gesture. However, chances for a peace dialogue with Colombia's government remain far off, and Sunday's alleged military interference only complicated matters.

Yesterday, the rebels were due to hand over former provincial Governor Alan Jara, 51, kidnapped in July 2001. Former provincial law maker Sigifredo Lopez, 45, is to be released tomorrow. He was grabbed in April 2002 during a raid on a state assembly.


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