Venezuela on alert to receive rebels' hostages

Venezuelan authorities are standing by to receive three hostages Colombia’s Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) rebels have said could be released as early as this weekend after spending years of captivity in the jungle.

Government officials in Caracas said on Friday that security forces were on alert to protect the hostages, they said.

“The mobilisation for the operation has begun,” one source close to the government said, without elaborating.

A Colombian opposition Senator who has been involved in negotiations with the rebels, Piedad Cordoba, was expected in the capital late on Friday, one of her aides, Andres Vazquez, said.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who also participated in negotiations before being dropped last month by Colombian President Alvaro Uribe amid claims he broke protocol, was not in the country.

On Friday, Chávez was in Cuba, and on Saturday he was expected to make a trip to Chile.

The Farc said on its website on Thursday it would free hostage Clara Rojas, along with her three- or four-year-old son Emmanuel, who was born in captivity to her and a rebel father.

The rebels also said they would also release lawmaker Consuelo Gonzalez de Perdomo, kidnapped in 2001.

Rojas, a political aide, was abducted in 2002 along with the highest-profile hostage still in rebel hands: former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt.

Videos showing Betancourt—who holds dual Colombian-French nationality—and 15 other hostages were released late last month as proof they were all alive.

The images notably showed Betancourt (45), looking thin and depressed, while other hostages—including three United States contractors captured in 2003 when their anti-drug plane was shot down—appeared healthier.

The rebels have demanded that Uribe create a demilitarised zone to swap 45 hostages, including Betancourt and the three Americans, for 500 Farc members held in Colombian jails.

Farc’s hostages include two army corporals, Pablo Moncayo and Libio Martinez, who have been held for 10 years, the longest-held hostages in the world.

The Farc said the release of the three was a gesture of goodwill towards the relatives of the hostages, and to Chávez and Cordoba. They accused Uribe of obstructionism.

The date and place of their promised release were unknown. The rebels have said they would hand them over to Chávez or to his representative.

A source close to the Venezuelan government said it was likely the handover would happen on the weekend in southern Venezuela, near the Colombian border.
The source added the freed hostages would then be quickly transported to Caracas.—Sapa-AFP

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