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Ahead of election, Colombian rebels release hostages

Moncayo father

The Colombian rebel group FARC has released two hostages in recent days. On Sunday, a young soldier held for 11 months was set free, and on Tuesday the FARC released an army corporal held since 1997, one of the longest-held hostages in Colombian history. From Chris Kraul in Bogota:

The liberation of the pair has raised hopes for a comprehensive hostage-prisoner swap between the leftists and the government of President Alvaro Uribe, who leaves office in August. An exchange has been stalled by the rebels' demand that they take control of two townships and [Colombian President Alvaro] Uribe's that freed guerrillas swear to not return to their ranks.

The first soldier released, army Pvt. Josue Daniel Calvo, 23, is being treated for injuries sustained in the battle that led to his capture. Army Cpl. Pablo Emilio Moncayo, 31, was reunited with loved ones in the city of Florencia tonight. His case had drawn attention after his father, Gustavo, walked for more than 600 miles while "wearing chains he swore to keep on until his son was liberated," Kraul reports.

Colombia holds a presidential election in May. Uribe, a conservative, is not eligible to run again. He said over the weekend that the rebels were releasing hostages to "put on an electoral show" before voters go to polls, according to Bloomberg. About 20 soldiers and police officers are estimated to be in the hands of the FARC, which said Moncayo's would be the last unilateral release. Rebels want more imprisoned FARC members freed by the Colombian government.

The Christian Science Monitor reports that the FARC is trying to regain political relevance after several years of setbacks:

A bold intelligence operation [in 2008] tricked the FARC into freeing [15] of their top hostages, including former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and three American defense contractors. That same year the rebels lost three of their top commanders and suffered massive desertions. However, the rebels still have an estimated 9,000 fighters and remain a significant destabilizing factor in many parts of the country.

Last week, a car bomb that detonated in the port city of Buenaventura killed 9 people. The Colombian government blames the FARC for the attack.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

* Photo: Gustavo Moncayo, father of the released hostage, in chains awaiting his son's arrival. Credit: Associated Press.

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