COLOMBIA: Rebels free hostages amid peace talks plea

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Colombia’s largest rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), has released six hostages, including two police officers and four civilians, officials say.

The hostages were handed over to members of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in a rural area near the Venezuelan border on Sunday.

The left-wing ELN had freed two other civilians on Friday.

The releases follow appeals from the rebels for peace talks to be resumed.

The government suspended negotiations with the group last year after a bomb attack on a police academy in the capital, Bogotá, killed more than 20 people.

President Iván Duque says the release of all hostages and the end of kidnappings and attacks are pre-conditions for talks. The group is believed to be holding at least 10 more hostages, according to the government.

Sunday’s releases were carried out in two separate operations in the north-eastern North Santander province. The hostages were found in “adequate health conditions,” the ICRC said in a statement (in Spanish).

The police officers – reportedly aged 21 and 22 – were kidnapped on 31 March while one of the civilians – a woman – had been held for four months, authorities said.

On Friday, two employees of an oil-services company in the province of Arauca, which is also close to the border with Venezuela, were released after 36 days.

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The ELN is much smaller than Colombia’s more well-known Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc), which is now no longer considered a rebel group after it signed a peace agreement with the government in 2016.