Chavez brokers release of four hostages from Colombian rebels

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Four Colombian hostages who had been "living dead" in the jungle for six years were freed by Marxist rebels last night after a deal was brokered by Venezuela's leftist President, Hugo Chavez.

The politicians, who were taken by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or Farc, more than six years ago, were rescued by Red Cross helicopters and flown to Venezuela. One of those freed, Gloria Polanco, said: "I was the living dead but today... I am happy, lucky, radiant." Sobbing, she said of some flowers she was carrying: "It is the only thing I can take from the jungle." She had been presented with the bouquet by one of her female captors.

The three men and one woman were said to be in good health, although one of the men, the former Senator Jorge Gechem, looked gaunt.

Ms Polanco added that the French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt, who is also being held by the Farc rebels, was "very sick" in a jungle camp. Ms Betancourt was captured six years ago while she campaigned for the presidency. France has worked with Colombia in an attempt to secure her release.