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Colombian Rebels Free Two Female Hostages

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

A dramatic scene yesterday in the Colombian jungle. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or FARC freed two women hostages. The women had been held in the rebels' jungle camps for more than five years. They were some of FARC's highest profile hostages, and the release was a major victory for the man who brokered it - Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez.

NPR's Juan Forero is in Bogota, Colombia, and he joins us to talk about it.

And describe the scene for us. I gather that the two women were escorted out by rebels clutching rifles.

JUAN FORERO: Yes, Renee. Well, the helicopters arrived in a clearing in the jungle in the southern state of Guaviare. And the rebels came out of the jungle in single pile. It was several women and male rebels. Venezuelan officials, the Cuban ambassador to Caracas, and also Red Cross officials left the helicopter and they greeted the guerrillas. They greeted the two hostages, and then they left.

MONTAGNE: And, of course, these women have been held by these rebels for years. Did they bid farewell to them?

FORERO: They did. The women kissed the female rebels and they shook hands with the male rebels. And then the guerrillas went back into the jungle. And the women left. They left the jungle for good.

MONTAGNE: One of the hostages, Clara Rojas - she was an aide to Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt. The two of them both were kidnapped while out campaigning in 2002. Now, Ingrid Betancourt, she's still being held. Does this mean that she might be released?

FORERO: Ingrid Betancourt is still in the jungle, and Ingrid Betancourt is the most high profile and the most valuable hostage that the FARC rebels have. For that reason, it's unlikely that she's going to be released anytime soon. Clara Rojas said that she had been with Ingrid Betancourt, but it had been many years. So she really wasn't able to provide much information about Ingrid's state of mind or how she's doing in the jungle.

MONTAGNE: There are hundreds of other captives still languishing in those secrets in the jungle - really inaccessible - and among them, three Americans - contractors who were captured. Does this raise hopes for any of them?

FORERO: Hopes have been raised. Hopes have been raised that through negotiations and possibly with the involvement of President Hugo Chavez, the guerrillas might give up other hostages. They hold almost 800 hostages. Some of them have been in the jungle for 10 years. So these are people who were basically rotting in the jungle and feel that they've been forgotten. But in the past, the guerrillas have rarely made these kinds of unilateral gestures. They're asking for a lot more. And the Colombian government is bucking. The Colombian government has been at war with the guerrillas for many, many years.

MONTAGNE: And finally, Hugo Chavez was able to make this happen in large part due to his leftist ideology, which helped in his role mediating with the rebels. What does this mean for him politically?

FORERO: For Hugo Chavez, this is a much-needed victory. He's had a very, very tough year. And in December, he lost an important election. So he was able to show some keen leadership skills here. And he was able to get what he wanted.

MONTAGNE: Juan, thanks very much.

NPR's Juan Forero speaking from Bogota, Colombia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
Juan Forero