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14 Jan 2008 06:53
A Colombian woman freed last week after six years as a rebel hostage arrived in Bogota on Sunday and headed straight for a reunion with her son, Emmanuel, born in a jungle camp and then taken away by her captors.
A slightly dazed but smiling Clara Rojas arrived from Caracas, where she had been since leftist Venezuelan President Hugo ChÃ¡vez brokered her release on hursday from the Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or Farc.
“I am immensely moved to be here,” said Rojas, wearing red designer glasses and a pink jacket and carrying a bunch of white lilies.
A photograph released later by authorities shows the 44-year-old Rojas, her eyes closed, hugging her son at their Sunday night reunion. Another shows the boy in a blue wool sweater timidly handing Rojas a colorful drawing he made for her as his maternal grandmother looks on, weeping.
Captured during her 2002 vice-presidential campaign, Rojas gave birth to Emmanuel in April 2004.
When he was eight months old the boy was turned over by the Farc to a peasant family in southern Colombia, where Rojas was being held.
That family later took the boy to a hospital to be treated for tropical diseases and a broken arm.
On Sunday, Emmanuel left the orphanage to spend the night with his family at his grandmother’s apartment. Dozens of well-wishers lined the street shouting “welcome home” as Rojas’ car passed.
Emmanuel is seen as a symbol of young victims of a war in which thousands of people are killed and displaced every year. The child became a national obsession on New Year’s Eve when the government revealed he was no longer in captivity.
The first hostage release mission organised by ChÃ¡vez in late December was to include the liberation of Emmanuel. The anti-American Venezuelan leader had to revamp the plan after the Farc admitted it no longer had the boy in its control.
Rojas was a centre-left politician when captured along with her running mate, Ingrid Betancourt, a French-Colombian national and former presidential candidate who is still in captivity.
The two were chained up and had snakes and tarantulas thrown into their sleeping bunks to punish them after they tried to escape soon after their kidnapping, Rojas said.
“She knows I have immense respect and love for her,” Rojas said. “Let’s see to it that she is here with us soon.”
Efforts to free Farc captives have intensified with French President Nicolas Sarkozy calling Betancourt’s release a high foreign policy priority.
The outlawed rebel army holds hundreds of people for ransom and political leverage as part of its four-decade-old war.
The handover of Rojas and a former Colombian congresswoman raised hopes for other hostages, including three American anti-drug contractors taken in 2003.
But the Farc is at a stalemate with conservative President Alvaro Uribe over conditions for swapping dozens of high-profile captives—including police officers, soldiers and politicians—for jailed guerrillas.
The rebels insist that Uribe pull troops from a large area in south-west Colombia, where the hostages would be exchanged.
Uribe, whose father was killed in a botched Farc kidnapping more than 20 years ago, says creating such a safe haven would allow the guerrillas to regroup. - Reuters
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