The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have freed three captive Chinese oil workers and their translator after detaining them in jungle camps for more than a year, the Colombian defence ministry has said.
The release of the hostages on Wednesday was apparently a goodwill gesture as the rebels seek to negotiate a peace accord with the government to end five decades of war.
The captives, who worked for a contractor hired by UK-based Emerald Energy, were taken hostage by the FARC, in mid-2011 as they were driving in southern Colombia, the government said.
The detainees were freed as a result of a collaboration between the Red Cross and the Chinese government, Colombian Vice Defence Minister Jorge Enrique Bedoya told reporters.
The move by FARC came after the rebel group called a unilateral ceasefire for two months at the start of peace talks in Cuba on Monday.
“The government provided all the help possible so that this (liberation) could develop without any problems. We are very
happy that these Chinese citizens can return to their homes,” Bedoya said.
A decade-long government offensive against the FARC has pushed the rebels deep into inhospitable jungle territory, helping foreign and local oil companies explore territory that was once off-limits.
But the fighters have stepped up attacks against oil installations over the last year or so, bombing pipelines, kidnapping workers, and making it difficult for companies to maintain output levels.
The FARC pledged in February that it would no longer take hostages for ransom, one of the group’s main sources of income along with drug trafficking and extortion, according to police sources.
After the FARC this year released a group of military and police officials it had held for more than a decade, rebel leaders repeatedly said the group was not holding any more captives.
FARC negotiators in Cuba reiterated that they hold no hostages.
“This again demonstrates the double standard and hypocrisy of the FARC, which announced that it held no more captives,” Bedoya said.
Jordi Raich, head of the Colombian delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said he could not confirm the government’s claim that the FARC was responsible for the kidnapping. He said it was not in his ambit to investigate.
“We received (the hostages) from a group of people dressed in civilian clothes and without weapons,” he told reporters.
“It’s excellent news for the families after so much time of waiting and uncertainty.”