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Colombian Rebels Free Hostages

December 14, 1997

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ A small leftist rebel band released the presidential press secretary and a journalist nine days after taking them hostage, handing them a peace proposal Saturday to deliver to the government.

But a larger rebel group kidnapped four other journalists on a road in northeastern Colombia, according to the newspaper where two of the journalists work.

The small Jaime Bateman Cayon guerrilla band freed press secretary William Parra and RCN radio journalist Luis Eduardo Maldonado in a rural area southwest of the capital, Bogota.

``Our fundamental goal continues to be peace with social justice,″ a rebel who called himself ``Commander Simon″ told RCN radio, reading from a communique. ``As proof of this, (the hostages) are returning to the bosom of their homes, their work and their colleagues.″

Parra and Maldonado were abducted in Bogota on Dec. 4, shortly after leaving the presidential palace.

The other four journalists _ reporter Carlos Alberto Giraldo and photographer Jesus Abad Colorado of Medellin’s El Colombiano newspaper, and television reporter Carlos Alberto Arredondo and cameraman Freddy Ocampo of Tele-Antioquia _ were kidnapped by 15 armed men on a road near San Francisco, 105 miles northeast of Bogota.

The four were reporting on the recent rebel kidnapping of six mayors in the region.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the largest and oldest rebel group fighting the state, claimed responsibility in a note sent back with the journalists’ driver.

``Greetings from the 9th front of the FARC. The journalists ... have been abducted. Don’t worry, everything will be OK. We only need to send a communique to the public,″ said the note, El Colombiano reported.

The substance of the communique was not reported, and it was unclear when the journalists would be released.

Parra and Maldonado were released in a mountainous area in Ortega, 95 miles southwest of Bogota, after walking for three hours, RCN radio reported. They were in good condition.

The tiny rebel group has less than 200 fighters. The FARC and the National Liberation Army, the nation’s larger leftist guerrilla groups, have thousands of fighters and have been battling the government since the 1960s.

They have refused to negotiate with President Ernesto Samper’s government, which they accuse of being illegitimate because of allegations Samper won office with drug money.

Colombia has the world’s highest kidnapping rate, with about three people abducted every day. It is also the most dangerous country in the hemisphere for journalists. Seven have been killed so far this year.

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