Hopes rise for release of British man in Colombia

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The Independent US

A British man being held hostage by Colombian rebels could be released in time for Christmas. The parents of TV producer Mark Henderson said they were "cautiously optimistic" he would be released either tomorrow or on Tuesday.

Mr Henderson, 32, was captured by the Marxist National Liberation Army (ELN), more than three months ago, along with two other Europeans and four Israelis. Another backpacker with the group, Matthew Scott, 19, from Clapham, south London, escaped after leaping into a ravine and trekking through the jungle alone for 12 days.

The other two Europeans - a German and a Spaniard - were released at the end of November, but there has been no sign of Mr Henderson aside from a videotape recorded several months ago. In it, bearded and haggard, he urged the British Government to speed his release.

Yesterday, Mr Henderson's mother Sharelle said the Roman Catholic cleric who is negotiating with the rebel group had reported that the prisoners would all be released in the next 48 hours.

"We are told they are hoping he'll be released tomorrow or Tuesday. The Foreign Office has heard this from the Monsignor and we are obviously just waiting and hoping," said Mrs Henderson, from Pateley Bridge, in the Yorkshire Dales.

The cleric, Monsignor Hector Fabio Henao, has been working as a go-between in Colombia, negotiating with the rebels and holding talks with the Colombian government. The rebels have made similar noises in the past, only for the family's hopes to be dashed. Mrs Henderson said last night: "This time we are cautiously optimistic."

Mr Henderson, a Leicester University French and politics graduate, spent nearly 10 years working in television production before he began travelling. Much of this was with the Australian broadcaster Clive James, and part of it was for Ace Editing, the company owned by BBC journalist John Humphrys. He left the UK in May to tour central and southern Mexico.

On 12 September, while on a trek to the 2,500-year-old ruins of Ciudad Perdida, or the Lost City, his group was seized by the ELN.

Last night a Foreign Office spokesman said he could not confirm any details of the latest contacts with the rebels, but added that British officials were on stand-by.