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Colombian Rebels Free Union Leader

April 8, 2002

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ A leader of an oil workers’ union was freed Sunday by a right-wing paramilitary group which had kidnapped him more than a month ago, the government said.

Gilberto Torres was delivered ``safe and sound″ to representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross and Colombian government human rights and peace officials, said Labor Minister Angelino Garzon.

Torres’ kidnapping on Feb. 25 had resulted in a 14-day protest strike by his Workers Union Syndicate that cut output at refineries of the Colombian state oil company Ecopetrol. The strike was suspended last Thursday after the paramilitaries said they wanted to arrange Torres’ handover.

He was freed in a rural area near the village of Monterrey, 87 miles west of Bogota, the capital.

The country’s main labor confederation, the Central Union of Workers, says 160 union leaders have been murdered in the past year. Many of the attacks were allegedly carried out by paramilitaries, who accuse the union workers of being allied with leftist rebels.

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