Colombia rebels free hostages held 12 yrs.

April 2, 2012 at 8:58 PM

VILLAVICENCIA, Colombia, April 2 (UPI) -- A Colombian rebel group operating since the 1940s Monday freed 10 government officials held hostage for more than 12 years, the International Red Cross said.

Red Cross Representative Jordi Raich confirmed the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia turned over to the care of the humanitarian agency four soldiers and six police officers in a preset protocol agreed to by both parties, Colombia Reports said.

Family members were waiting to meet the men in the city of Villavicencia, near the release point.

"We are happy to announce the success of this operation in only one day that has allowed the reuniting of the ten hostages with their families after so many years," Raich said. "Today the agony has stopped for these families and that gives us great satisfaction."

The Wall Street Journal said no more government officials remain in the hands of the rebels but hundreds of civilians are being held.

FARC began in 1948 as a Marxist-Leninist guerrilla agrarian movement similar to what Fidel Castro and Che Guevara were instituting in Cuba and trying in Bolivia. FARC allegedly financed the insurgency by selling cocaine but Colombian President Manuel Santos has demanded FARC halt its drug-dealing and kidnapping before talks with the government can begin, the Journal said.

FARC said in February it would stop its decades-old practice of kidnapping civilians for ransom.

"There is a clear interest from the FARC and the government to move toward peace talks," said Leon Valencia, a former member of another guerrilla group.

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