Latin America & Caribbean

Colombia's Farc rebels release hostage Marcos Baquero

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Media captionThe BBC's Jeremy McDermott says Farc is hoping for peace talks with the government

Colombia's Farc rebel group has released the first of five hostages it has promised to free this week as a gesture of peace to the government.

The hostage, local politician Marcos Baquero, was collected by a Brazilian military helicopter from a secret location in the Colombian jungle.

He had been in captivity for 19 months.

The Colombian government has demanded that all hostages be freed as a condition for any talks with the left-wing rebels.

Mr Baquero was released to a humanitarian delegation led by ex-senator Piedad Cordoba, who played a role in previous hostage releases but was also banned from the senate for her alleged links to the rebels.

"My first words are for my family and my wife who I love very much. Thanks be to God I am now coming out," the 35-year-old told Colombian broadcaster Caracol as he was being flown to the city of Villavicencio, where he was reunited with his family.

He said the hardest part of his ordeal was having no one to talk to, as his captors had been given orders not to make friends with him.

Mr Baquero was kidnapped in June 2009 when Farc guerrillas ambushed a group of local politicians on a road near the town of San Jose de Guaviare.

Last December the Farc announced that it was prepared to free him along with another politician, two soldiers and a policeman, but agreement on security arrangements for the release has required lengthy negotiations.

Brazil has been acting as a neutral facilitator along with the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The Colombian military temporarily suspended operations across a huge area in the south of the country to facilitate the release.

The Farc has been describing the releases as a unilateral "gesture of peace" to the government.

The head of the humanitarian mission, Ms Cordoba, said the rebels might be willing to release all their remaining hostages - thought to number 16 - over the next six months.

President Juan Manuel Santos has made the release of all hostages a condition for opening peace talks with the Farc, along with an end to attacks and the use of land mines.