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Colombian Rebels Free German Hostage

April 6, 2006

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ For five years, Rosy de Hintze did whatever she could to secure the release of her husband, a German businessman kidnapped by Colombia’s largest rebel group. She sold her car and took out loans to pay at least three ransoms.

On Wednesday, her torturous wait to see her husband was almost over.

A day after his release, Lothar Hintze was undergoing medical and psychological treatment under the supervision of Germany’s Embassy in the Colombian capital, Bogota. His wife stood by the phone waiting for word of their reunion.

``The second they call me, I’ll run out the door,″ said Hintze, 40, of Colombia, who hasn’t spoken with her husband since March 16, 2001.

That was the day he was seized by at least 15 heavily armed rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. The rebels approached the couple by boat as they were bathing at a tourist complex he was building in Prado, 90 miles southwest of Bogota.

``My faith in God saw me through this ordeal,″ she said.

The details of Lothar Hintze’s release Tuesday remain unknown, even to his wife. The German Embassy declined to divulge any information about the release.

Lothar Hintze, 60, came to Colombia as a backpacker from Stuttgart, southern Germany, in the 1970s, his wife said. He ended up settling in the South American country, building several businesses.

The businessman was one of 25 foreigners thought to be in captivity in Colombia _ just a fraction of the 4,000 people believed held hostage by the highest estimates. Among them are three U.S. defense contractors whose plane was shot down over the jungle while they were on an anti-narcotics mission in 2003.

Kidnapping is a lucrative business for criminal gangs in Colombia and is used frequently by the FARC to raise funds for their four-decade insurgency against the government.

Although kidnappings have fallen by more than 70 percent since President Alvaro Uribe took office in 2002 and increased the number of soldiers and police, Colombia remains the world leader in abductions. Some 800 people were kidnapped last year, according to Pais Libre, a victims rights’ groups.

For family members, the anguish of being cut off from their loved ones while their captors squeeze them for money is a common plight.

``It’s very frequent that families go bankrupt meeting several ransom demands before their loved ones are released,″ said Olga Lucia Gomez, director of Pais Libre. ``Payments range anywhere from $2,000 to $5 million.″

Hintze declined to say how much money she gave to the FARC, but she said her hopes rose falsely with at least three ransom payments over the years.

She said her husband’s release came as a shock. The last sign she received that he was alive was a video in November, in which her emaciated husband ``begged not to be left to die in the mountains.″

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