COLOMBIA'S ELN REBELS FREE CAPTIVE SOLDIER

12 Jul 2013 11:19

BOGOTA, July 5 (BERNAMA-NNN-XINHUA) -- Colombia's rebel National Liberation Army (ELN) has released a soldier under its custody since May 22, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reported Wednesday.

Colombian army soldier Carlos Fabian Huertas was released in rural Fortul, in the northeast state of Arauca, in an apparent goodwill gesture, as rebels seek peace talks with the government to end armed conflicts in the country, according to local media.

Huertas was kidnapped during a violent attack by the ELN, the country's second largest insurgent group, in Chitaga, northeast Colombia, in which another 10 soldiers were killed.

The move came a day after Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos demanded the rebels free all their hostages as a pre-condition to peace talks.

"The official was transported in an ICRC vehicle to Saravena, where he was delivered to army representatives. An ICRC nurse, who formed part of the mission, gave him a medical examination to verify he was in good health," said the ICRC in a statement.

Johnatan Huertas, brother of the freed captive, told reporters he and his mother planned to travel to the capital of Bogota to meet with Huertas, who was to be flown there aboard an army plane.

"We are very happy and we want to arrive soon in Bogota to welcome him. We have talked with him, (and) he said he is in good health and that he wants to see us. He also said it was a very tough situation and he asked us to wait for him in Bogota," Johnatan said.

A week ago, the ELN released a video of Huertas as proof that he was alive, hoping to begin peace negotiations similar to those between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas and the government, which began last November.

At least 19 people are still being held by the ELN, including Canadian citizen Jernoc Wobert, vice president of exploration for transnational mining company Braeval, who was kidnapped on Jan. 18 in the northeast department of Bolivar.

The ELN says it will release Wobert in exchange for four mining titles that were wrongfully wrangled from the communities of Casa de Barro, Mina Seca, La Nevera and Las Nieves, and granted to Braeval.

--BERNAMA-NNN-XINHUA

SS RT