Colombia's Farc rebels release hostages

The BBC's Jeremy McDermott in Medellin: "This is perhaps a turning point in Colombia's civil conflict"

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Colombia's Farc rebels have released their last 10 police and military hostages - some of whom have spent 14 years in captivity.

They were collected from the jungle by a Brazilian military helicopter and flown to safety.

President Juan Manuel Santos welcomed the releases but said they were "not enough" to open direct peace talks.

Farc has been fighting Colombia's government for five decades, making it Latin America's oldest insurgency.

The rebels, who have lost ground in recent years, are still holding an unknown number of civilians hostage.


These latest releases signal the abandonment of the Farc's aim to secure the release of imprisoned comrades by capturing and kidnapping members of the security forces and politicians to force a prisoner exchange.

By giving up all kidnapping, the guerrillas shut down one of their traditional streams of income, although in recent years drug trafficking and extortion have far outstripped money earned from ransom.

Over the last 10 years, the rebels' numbers have been halved from around 16,000 to 8,000 fighters.

Whereas they once controlled more than a third of Colombia, now they have been pushed back into mountain and jungle strongholds.

But the Farc are far from beaten, and it is likely is that they will continue to increase their attacks in the hope of strengthening their position at any negotiating table.

Television pictures showed the former hostages waving and punching the air as they got off the helicopter at the city of Villavicencio, where they were welcomed by their relatives and given medical checks before being flown on to the capital, Bogota.

Some emerged with their pets, which included a peccary - a kind of wild pig - and a monkey.

"Welcome to liberty, soldiers and policemen of Colombia," Mr Santos said at the presidential palace.

"Freedom has been very delayed but now it is yours, to the delight of the whole country."

But he warned that until all hostages were freed, his government would continue its policy of confronting armed groups.

"When the government believes there are enough guarantees to begin a process that leads to the end of the conflict, the country will know it," he said.

The hostage release was co-ordinated by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and a group of Colombian mediators led by former senator Piedad Cordoba.

"We express our great happiness at the success of this operation that allowed in just one day the reunion of 10 families that were waiting for so many years," the head of the ICRC in Colombia, Jordi Raich, said.

A former Farc hostage draped in a Colombian flag punches the air as he steps off the helicopter that carried him to freedom

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) have been fighting for power in Colombia since the 1960s.

But over the past decade they have suffered a series of setbacks, losing several top commanders and much of their strength.

For many years the rebels tried to use captured members of the security forces as bargaining tools to try to secure the release of jailed guerrillas.

After drug trafficking, kidnapping for ransom has been the group's main source of income, but it has drawn national and international condemnation. In February, the Farc promised to end the practice.

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