Colombian rebels set to release another hostage

Other News Materials 21 February 2008 00:16 (UTC +04:00)

( dpa ) - Leftist rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are set to release a former Colombian senator it has held hostage for six years.

Jorge Eduardo Gechem, whose health is delicate, is to be freed, his wife, Lucy Artunduaga, said Wednesday.

At a mass in Neiva, in the south-western Colombian province of Huila, to mark the sixth anniversary of Gechem's kidnapping, Artunduaga said Colombian Senator Piedad Cordoba - who has been mediating with FARC for the release of several hostages - called from Caracas to deliver the rebels' message.

"It is a satisfaction for his family, his friends and Huila. Now we will finally get to rest," Artunduaga said.

Gechem was kidnapped on February 20, 2002 by rebels who hijacked a commercial plane and forced it to land in a rural area of the municipality of Hobo, in Huila. The then-senator was travelling from Neiva to Bogota.

In January, FARC released politicians Clara Rojas and Consuelo Gonzalez.

Gonzalez carried photos and letters that constituted proof of life for several hostages, including Gechem.

The former senator asked his wife to ask the Cuban government to take him to the island for treatment, and even suggested he could remain captive at a Cuban jail while he was treated and then return to the Colombian jungle.

On Tuesday, however, Artunduaga said Cuba refused to take part in such an operation, arguing that they object to FARC's kidnappings. However, Cuban authorities offered to treat Gechem once he is free.

In his letter, the former legislator said he has a stomach ulcer that bleeds frequently and suffer heart problems that have caused him to suffer five pre-strokes.

FARC has also indicated its intention to release former legislators Gloria Polanco, Luis Eladio Perez and Orlando Beltran.

FARC has proposed an exchange of about 40 hostages - including former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, three US contractors and several politicians, police and military officers - for at least 500 jailed rebels.