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Oil workers seized by Colombian rebels are freed

Colombian troops have freed all but one of 23 local oil contractors working for Canada's Talisman Energy after they were snatched by Farc rebels on Monday in a rare mass kidnapping.

Troops on foot and in helicopters were pursuing the kidnappers in the remote eastern jungle region yesterday to free the last of the hostages, who were forced by gunmen to leave their camp in the oil-rich Vichada province.

"We can confirm 22 of the 23 are now freed," Defence Minister Rodrigo Rivera told local Caracol Radio. "Only one remains in their hands in an area we hope to reach soon."

Colombia, which is Latin America's fourth biggest oil producer, is enjoying an investment boom in petroleum and mining as violence from its long war has subsided. But illegal armed groups remain a threat in remote areas where the state has yet to gain a strong grip.

Kidnappings are now rare, but companies are still targeted for extortion. Farc rebels kidnapped five oil contractors last year, but troops rescued them four days later.

Talisman said most of the workers were members of local indigenous communities hired by a contractor to carry out seismic work in the area.

Officials did not say whether the troops had rescued the men or whether they were freed because of intense military pressure.