Colombian rebels release another politician hostage

February 6th, 2009 - 8:18 am ICT by IANS  

Cali (Colombia), Feb 6 (IANS) The leftist guerrillas of Colombia have released a former legislator they had taken hostage in 2002, the EFE news agency reported Friday.Sigifredo Lopez, a former regional legislator in the Valle del Cauca province, arrived in this southwestern city of Cali Thursday to a tumultuous welcome from family and friends.

The 45-year-old legislator, who was kidnapped April 11, 2002, was the last of the six politician hostages the rebels promised to free who was kidnapped April 11, 2002.

Lopez broke into sobs soon after descending from a Brazilian helicopter, which transported him from the jungles of Colombia’s Cauca province where the FARC had handed him over to a Red Cross mission, and immediately embraced his wife Patricia Nieto and the couple’s children.

“Freedom, freedom!” were the first shouts heard from the crowd that welcomed Lopez, who was greeted with bouquets of red and white roses.

His wife, who even searched for Lopez in the jungle during his captivity, was also unable to hold back tears when he disembarked from the helicopter.

Amid weeping and obvious signs of joy, Lopez expressed his thanks to the crowd that had assembled for his arrival, including Red Cross spokesman Yves Heller.

Lopez was to address a press conference latter where he was expected to shed some light on the still-murky 2007 episode resulting in the deaths of the 11 other Valle del Cauca legislators taken captive along with him in 2002.

While President Alvaro Uribe’s government insists the FARC simply executed the 11 men, the rebels say the captives were killed in the crossfire when an unidentified armed unit attacked the guerrilla camp.

Lopez was being held at another camp at the time of the incident.

The FARC announced in December that it would unilaterally free Lopez, former provincial governor Alan Jara and four members of the security forces, having already released six captives in early 2008.

Brazil eventually offered to provide helicopters and logistical support for the Red Cross operation to retrieve the freed captives, and three police officers and a soldier were handed over Sunday to a team led by Colombian opposition Senator Piedad Cordoba.

Jara was released Tuesday to the humanitarian delegation.

All six of the captives freed this week were among a group - once numbering 60 people - of “exchangeables” the FARC hoped to trade for hundreds of jailed guerrillas.

In July last year, Colombian soldiers wearing Red Cross insignia tricked a FARC unit into handing over the most prominent hostage, former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, along with three US military contractors and 11 Colombian police officers and soldiers.

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