Next Colombian hostage releases hit delays

Coordination problems have led to a slight delay in the promised release of two Colombian politicians held hostage for more than seven years by leftist rebels, with plans being put off for a day, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said Monday, dpa reported.

However, the Red Cross noted that plans for the release of Alan Jara, a former governor of the central Colombian province of Meta, and former regional legislator Sigifredo Lopez were still on track after the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) offered to free them.

The next two planned releases on Tuesday and possibly Thursday would follow close on the heels of the liberation Sunday of three police officer and a soldier held since 2007 by FARC.

According to a statement released by the humanitarian mission in charge of finding the hostages after they are released, Jara had originally been set to be freed Monday, while Lopez had been expected to be released Wednesday.

Colombian opposition Senator Piedad Cordoba, who leads a humanitarian mission taking part in the releases, confirmed in Meta capital Villavicencio that Jara is now set to be released Tuesday and Lopez not before Thursday.

The delay was linked to problems encountered Sunday in the release by FARC of the four other hostages.

"Although some events generated tension, the ICRC underlines that the interest over the fate of the victims and their relatives must dominate in these circumstances," said Red Cross spokesman Yves Heller.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe had forbidden the humanitarian group, Colombians For Peace, from involvement in the next two releases after its members criticized the Colombian military for being too near by during Sunday's release and possibly ruining the chances of more releases.

But he relented early Monday, authorizing Cordoba to be part of the mission that is set to go in search of Jara and Lopez, who were kidnapped in 2001 and 2002 respectively.

Colombians For Peace, made up of journalists, politicians and academics and led by Cordoba, had accused the Colombian Armed Forces of violating pledges made by the government that it would not have a presence at the release on Sunday.

The four hostages were handed over at an undisclosed site in jungles in southern Colombia.

Their arrival from the jungle in southern Colombia to the city of Villavicencio was said to have taken a lot longer than planned due to the presence of unidentified aircraft in the area, even though the government had granted the mission full security guarantees.

A spokesman for Colombians For Peace, journalist Jorge Enrique Botero, accused the Armed Forces of having been in the area.

The government initially denied the allegations. However, Uribe later admitted that there were indeed Air Force planes in the area, but not in a position to affect the operation. He was so angry about the allegations that he then banned Colombians For Peace from taking part in any further releases.

In a brief statement Monday, Uribe retracted the ban and responded to a request from the International Committee of the Red Cross for Cordoba to be allowed to take part in the releases "out of solidarity with the kidnapped and their families."

Several observers had said the rebels would not release their hostages if the senator was not there.

The uncertainty early Monday, however, prompted Brazilian Army helicopters that are cooperating with the Red Cross to remain in Villavicencio.

Despite allowing the mission, Uribe expressed a "worry over the exaltation of terrorism that took part" Sunday, with reference to the allegations of Colombians For Peace.

In Washington, the US government welcomed Sunday's release of the four captives and called for FARC to immediately release all other hostages.

"There is no justification for the FARC's continued victimization of innocent people," the US State Department said in a statement.

The United States also praised Brazil for the role it played in providing air support for the operation.

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