Colombian rebels release former provincial governor

February 4th, 2009 - 8:33 am ICT by IANS  

Villavicencio (Colombia), Feb 4 (IANS) Leftist rebel guerrillas in Colombia have released a former provincial governor they had held hostage for more than seven years, EFE news agency reported Wednesday.Alan Jara, former governor of the central Colombian province of Meta, was brought to Villavicencio, a city near capital Bogota, in a Brazilian helicopter Tuesday hours after Yves Heller, spokesman of Red Cross Colombia, announced Jara’s release.

The former governor along with three police officers and a soldier were handed over to a humanitarian delegation in the jungles of the southern province of Guaviare.

Waiting for Jara were wife Claudia Rugeles, his 14-year-old son Alan Felipe Jara, officials of the Meta provincial government and friends of the veteran politico.

“Free, free” were the former captive’s first words to reporters.

“I’ve already rested after seven and half years, now I go to work,” Jara said, though acknowledging some unspecified health problems.

The two-time governor was working with the United Nations when he was intercepted by the the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas while traveling in a UN vehicle through a rural area of the province.

The FARC announced in December that it would unilaterally free Jara, former provincial lawmaker Sigifredo Lopez and four members of the security forces.

Brazil offered to provide helicopters and logistical support for the Red Cross operation to retrieve the freed captives.

Lopez will be released Thursday, the Red Cross said shortly after Jara’s arrival in Villavicencio.

The FARC, a Marxist rebel army that has fought a decades-old struggle against a succession of Colombian governments, holds some hostages for political leverage and others in hopes their families will pay for their release.

The guerrilla group suffered a series of blows last year, with the biggest coming July 2, when the Colombian Army rescued former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, three US military contractors and 11 other Colombian police officers and soldiers.

The FARC had been trying to trade the 15 captives, along with 25 other “exchangeables”, for hundreds of jailed guerrillas.

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