"We have the happy news that Clara Rojas and Consuelo Gonzalez are in our hands. We are very happy," Barbara Hintermann , an ICRC official in the Colombian capital Bogota, said.

DNA proof


The Red Cross was participating in the mission along with the Colombian and Venezuelan governments.

The hostage release comes as a laboratory in Spain confirmed DNA results showing that a three-year-old boy at a Bogota orphanage is the son of Rojas, born in captivity.

Chavez promised last year he would secure the release of the two women and the boy, Emmanuel, but the deal collapsed as it emerged the boy had already been in the hands of Colombian officials for more than two years.

Monica Villamizar, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Bogota, said it was unclear if the Venezuelan helicopters were going to wait for two hours to allow the rebels to retreat back into the jungle before crossing back over into Venezuelan territory.

Colombia suspended military operations in three areas in the southeastern state of Guaviare to facilitate the handover according to the defence minister, Juan Manuel Santos.

Relatives of Rojas and Gonzalez were waiting in Venezuela with doctors on hand to assess the health of both hostages.

Health concerns

Chavez said he spoke to the
two women on the phone [AFP]
Villamizar said that there were some concerns particularly over the condition of Rojas who is said to be very emotionally unstable, unsurprising given that she gave birth in the jungle and her child was taken off her when he was three-months old.

Relatives of other hostages are also waiting anxiously for news and although there were unconfirmed rumours that more captives could be handed over, Villamizar said families would be hoping at least for proof of life through letters or other documents brought by Rojas and Gonzalez.

The Farc is holding about 46 high-profile hostages hoping to exchange them for hundreds of its jailed fighters.

Rojas was an aide to the former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, who is also being held, and was kidnapped in February 2002 while campaigning with Betancourt in southern Colombia.

Gonzalez was abducted in September 2001 near the city of Neiva.

Chavez announced he had finally received pickup co-ordinates from Farc on Wednesday and two helicopters were dispatched to southern Colombia on Thursday.

At one stage, Colombia had rejected Venezuela's help in the rescue bid.