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Colombian hostage release mission likely to go on Thursday
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A mission to pick up hostages from a major rebel group looks set for early Thursday after the Colombian government gave permission to neighboring Venezuela to go ahead with rescue efforts.


The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the country's major guerrilla group, announced Wednesday that it will release former legislator Consuelo Gonzalez, former vice-presidential candidate Clara Rojas in "a short time."


Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez confirmed the news, saying he had got a message from FARC on the release of the two hostages.


"This morning we received a message from the FARC high command giving the location of a mountain in Colombia where we can find Clara Rojas and Consuelo Gonzalez," Chavez said at an event welcoming Venezuela's volleyball team.


"Hopefully, Clara and Consuelo will be free in the coming hours," Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said.


Maduro "is sending a formal request to the Colombian government so that, hopefully the first thing (on Thursday) is that the Venezuelan helicopters ... could fly," said Chavez.


Colombia's high commissioner for peace Luis Carlos Restrepo told reporters on Wednesday that the government will extend all its guarantees to the mission to pick up Rojas and Gonzalez.


"This is a mission by the two governments with the participation of the Red Cross, which not only protects the mission with its emblems, but also will put in place the protocols that correspond to this type of humanitarian action," Restrepo told a press conference.


The government wants hostages to "return home as soon as possible," he added.


Restrepo said Venezuelan Foreign Minister Maduro had quickly sent a fax to his Colombian counterpart Alvaro Araujo detailing the rescue mission.


Yves Heller, spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Bogota, said the Geneva-based organization "confirms that the humanitarian mission will be launched tomorrow, but can neither confirm or deny that the hostage release will take place the same day."


In a December statement, FARC had promised to release former legislator Gonzalez, former vice-presidential candidate Rojas, and Rojas's young son Emmanuel to Chavez, as a compensation for his August-to-November mediation efforts.


Gonzalez's two daughters -- Patricia Elena and Maria Fernanda Perdomo -- received the news with great joy in Venezuelan capital Caracas, where they are waiting for the arrival of their mother.


"We are very happy, very content to know that, God willing, my mother could be free tomorrow," Patricia told the state television there.


FARC kidnapped Gonzalez in the southeastern Colombian province of Huila in 2001 and Rojas in southern Colombia's Caqueta in 2002, alongside running mate Ingrid Betancourt, the rebels' highest profile hostage, who has both French and Colombian citizenship.

FARC are holding 46 high-profile hostages hoping to swap them for hundreds of jailed rebels.


(Xinhua News Agency January 10, 2008)

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