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Rogue Colombian FARC rebels release U.N. hostage after 2 months

By Doug G. Ware
Rogue Colombian FARC rebels release U.N. hostage after 2 months
A group of resistant FARC militants released a United Nations contractor this week after he spent two months in captivity, Colombian officials said Wednesday. The contractor was abducted by rogue FARC fighters opposed to the historic peace deal reached last year. File Photo by Rafa Salafranca/UPI | License Photo

July 5 (UPI) -- Officials said Wednesday that rogue members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia have released a United Nations contractor who spent two months in captivity -- about a week after the group disarmed itself for the first time in its history.

FARC dissidents abducted Colombian contractor Harley Lopez in May as he was working on a U.N. project to replace illegal coca plants with lawful crops, like coffee and fruit.

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The Colombian government said Wednesday Lopez had been released "in good health," and had been sent to Bogota for evaluation before his final release.

"Our mission from this moment, is to maintain all the intelligence and operations to capture the hijackers of this United Nations contractor," Colombian Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas said in a statement acknowledging Lopez's release.

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Villegas said Lopez was abducted by holdout members of FARC -- the longtime Colombian paramilitary rebel group that battled the government in Bogota for more than a half century before a peace agreement arrived last summer to end decades of bloody conflict. The accord was signed last summer and went into effect in August.

"[Lopez] had made contact with his family and his superiors of the United Nations," Villegas said earlier Wednesday.

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"We are very grateful for the decision to release him unharmed," U.N. Information Center Director Helene Papper said Wednesday. "We are currently making all the logistical arrangements to transfer him."

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FARC's decision to release Lopez came just days after another historic step was taken by the group. On June 26, FARC voluntarily disarmed itself for the first time in its history and ceded the weapons to U.N. inspectors.

The rebel dissidents responsible for Lopez's abduction, officials said, are opposed to last year's cease-fire agreement and want to control the country's coca crops and the resulting exporting of cocaine.

Since it began in 1964, the Colombian conflict has resulted in more than 175,000 civilian deaths and nearly 30,000 abductions.

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