Colombian rebels release video of British hostage

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The Independent US

A British hostage kidnapped by rebels while visiting archaeological ruins in Colombia's Sierra Nevada mountains appeared in a video released by his captors yesterday.

Mark Henderson seemed to be in good spirits but tired after two months being held by the National Liberation Army (ELN).

Speaking to the camera and surrounded by dense forest vegetation, he said: "I want to say hello to my parents, family and friends. I have grown a beard and started to smoke again." He called on the British and Colombian governments to intervene to secure the seven hostages' release.

The video, handed to Reuters news agency at a secret location, showed the other hostages drinking coffee and playing cards. They were surrounded by several guerrillas wearing scarves over their mouths and camouflage clothing.

The Spanish hostage Asier Huegun said the hostages were given raw sugar cane to sustain them during long marches in the heavily forested region. The German hostage spoke to the camera in German. An unidentified guerrilla appeared on the video and said the ELN was looking for a political solution to the problem.

The group took the hostages, who also include four Israeli backpackers, on 12 September. In early October, the ELN offered to release Mr Huegun -- who is from Spain's Basque region -- as a gesture of solidarity with Basque separatists. The group also made several demands, which the Colombian president Alvaro Uribe rejected. Later, the ELN said it would release all seven over one week. President Uribe said he did not want an "international show" and the release was called off.

More than 2,000 Colombian army troops, aided by Black Hawk helicopters, have been searching the area. A Colombian church commission, led by Monsignor Alberto Giraldo, is authorised to negotiate with the rebel group. The last talks ended two weeks ago.

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