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Colombia rebels free 250

by BBC Friday, Jun. 29, 2001 at 9:39 PM

In announcing the handover last week FARC spokesman Raul Reyes said it was designed to show the rebels' commitment to peace talks.

Colombia rebels free...
farc.jysowy.jpg, image/jpeg, 315x180

ay, 28 June, 2001, 17:24 GMT 18:24 UK

Colombia rebels free 250

Colombia's largest guerrilla group has released nearly 250 captured police and soldiers in a gesture towards reviving peace talks.

The Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) handed the prisoners to the government's top peace envoy, Camilo Gomez, on Thursday.

Earlier in June the FARC released 55 sick soldiers in return for 14 rebels being held in state jails, a swap which Mr Gomez said could lead to other agreements between the two sides.

The releases are one of the biggest steps forward in slow-moving peace negotiations between the FARC and Colombia's President Andres Pastrana, designed to bring to an end the country's 37-year-old conflict.

Hand over

The hand over, which was presided over by the FARC's commander Manuel Marulanda, took place in a demilitarized area in southern Colombia that was ceded to the guerrillas more than two years ago.

It was witnessed by 10 ambassadors from countries who support the government's peace negotiations with the FARC.

In announcing the handover last week FARC spokesman Raul Reyes said it was designed to show the rebels' commitment to peace talks.

Following the latest releases, the FARC still holds about 100 soldiers prisoner.

Despite the talk of peace, no ceasefire has yet been agreed.

About 750 civilians have been killed so far this year, a higher rate than in any other since the conflict started.

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