Hostage release raises hopes of an end to Colombia's 48-year civil war

President welcomes 10 captives, but says Farc rebels must make more concessions

New hopes for an end to the 48-year civil conflict in Colombia were flickering yesterday after its leftist guerrilla army, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or Farc, released the last 10 of its military and police hostages and pledged to end all further civilian kidnappings for ransom.

The six policemen and four soldiers, some of whom had been held in remote rebel encampments for 14 years, were flown out of the jungle on Monday aboard a loaned Brazilian army helicopter marked with the Red Cross symbol. After meeting their families they were airlifted to Bogota for debriefings and medical check-ups.

"I shouted! I jumped up and down!" one mother, Olivia Solarte, exclaimed after hearing that her son was to be set free at last. She had not seen him in more than a decade.

Another of the men was reunited with a teenage son who was only four years old when he last saw him. Some stepped from the helicopter with pets, which included a monkey, a peccary and two small birds.

"We all were singing in the helicopter, full of emotions," said Piedad Cordoba, a former senator and the head of Colombians for Peace, which worked with the Red Cross on the operation.

The release of the hostages offers Colombians a glimpse of a future no longer marred by the Farc uprising that has been fuelled by money from cocaine and ransom demands. In the late 1990s, the rebels controlled half of the countryside but in recent years they have been driven deep into jungle areas. Much of the Farc leadership has been killed by government troops aided by billions of dollars in US training and assistance.

If the remaining Farc leadership is hoping the hostage release will spur the government to accept its request for peace negotiations, it may be disappointed. President Juan Manuel Santos, who as Defence Minister under his predecessor led the effort to turn back the tide on the Farc, signalled in a national address that he expected more concessions before talks could begin. Releasing the hostages was "a step in the right direction, a very important step", he conceded.

"We share in the joy of these releases and we especially appreciate the pledge by the Farc to stop kidnapping," Mr Santos said. But he cautioned that notion of peace talks beginning soon was "pure speculation", adding: "When the government considers that sufficient conditions and guarantees exist to begin a process that brings an end to the conflict, the country will know."

Human rights groups estimate that up to 400 hostages taken by the Farc since 1996 remain unaccounted for. Nor has the violence ended. In March, the Farc killed 11 soldiers near the Venezuelan border. Government forces responded with an aerial bombardment that reportedly killed 60 of the insurgents. Another 36 rebels were killed by government forces a week ago.

The Colombian government estimates that the Farc, founded in 1964, still has around 9,000 loyal fighters encamped in the jungle.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...