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Colombians Still Holding Hostages

April 6, 1998

SAN LUIS DE MONTHFORTH, Colombia (AP) _ A rebel whose group kidnapped three American bird watchers says only his leaders can decide when and if to release them.

A fatigue-clad rebel with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, told Associated Press Television on Sunday that he did not know how long they would be held.

A release ``must be ordered by the central command,″ said the rebel, who would only identify himself as Eduardo. He said he was the third-ranking rebel in the battalion that took the foreigners hostage.

The Americans _ Louise Augustine, a 63-year-old retired nun from Chillicothe, Ill., Peter Shen and Thomas Fiore of New York City, and Todd Marks of Houston _ were on a bird-watching expedition on Mar. 23 when they happened upon a rebel roadblock.

Fiore reached safety Thursday. He said he escaped but FARC, the nation’s oldest and most powerful rebel band, insists it let him go as a sign of good faith.

The group is also holding an Italian businessman.

Comandante Romana, the rebel battalion leader, has said the guerrillas will probably demand a ransom for the foreigners’ release.

Several rebel groups have been fighting the government for more than three decades.

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