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Colombia rebels free first of 5 captives

November 25, 2014

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — Colombian rebels on Tuesday freed the first two of five captives on whose release President Juan Manuel Santos has conditioned the resumption of peace talks.

A humanitarian mission led by the international Red Cross and representatives from Cuba and Norway retrieved the two soldiers from a remote jungle location and ferried them by helicopter to a nearby army base close to the Colombia-Venezuela border for medical check-ups. The two men had been captured during a Nov. 9 firefight between the army and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

The FARC’s peace negotiators, in a statement from Cuba, said that with the safe return home of the two soldiers their troops now are turning their attention to the expected release this week of Gen. Ruben Alzate and two other captives snatched in a separate incident. The guerrilla group reiterated its call for Colombia’s U.S.-backed military to halt all operations in the area.

Santos in a speech Tuesday said that the FARC’s decision to free the soldiers “demonstrates the maturity of the peace process.”

Alzate is the first general to be taken by the FARC in a half-century of fighting and his accidental capture, as he was traveling along a river in civilian clothes and without bodyguards, has been held up as a trophy by the guerrillas who consider military personnel prisoners of war.

Santos called Alzate’s capture “totally unacceptable” and suspended 2-year-old peace talks being held in Cuba. If not for the high-profile capture, it’s likely that the rank and file soldiers released Tuesday, Paulo Cesar Rivera and Jonathan Diaz, would have remained captive much longer. Like most soldiers in Colombia’s long war, both come from poor families far removed from the political and economic capital of Bogota.

Rivera, who dropped out of high school to help his family by joining the army, was preparing to marry his longtime girlfriend, according to his father.

Diaz’s brother, Cristian, said he was overjoyed to learn of his release.

“Of course I believe in peace, and hopefully they’ll release the others so talks can resume soon,” he told The Associated Press.

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AP Writer Joshua Goodman contributed to this report

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