BOGOTA – The FARC rebel group on Tuesday handed over two Colombian government soldiers captured in battle earlier this month, the International Committee of the Red Cross said.
Pvts. Cesar Rivera and Jonathan Diaz were released near the town of Tame in the northeastern province of Arauca, where they were captured Nov. 9, the ICRC said in a statement.
A Red Cross doctor briefly examined the men and certified that both were fit for travel before they were brought aboard a helicopter for the short flight to Tame, from where they are expected to fly to Bogota to be reunited with their families.
Deputy Defense Minister Jorge Enrique Bedoya was in Tame to oversee the military end of the operation and is likely to meet with Rivera and Diaz before their departure for the capital.
The soldiers were delivered to a delegation that included two senior ICRC officials and a physician, as well as diplomats from Cuba and Norway, the two guarantor nations for the 2-year-old peace process between the Colombian government and the FARC.
The Defense Minister thanked the ICRC and the Cuban and Norwegian governments for their participation in the humanitarian mission and said that Rivera and Diaz will undergo thorough medical checks.
Still pending is the handover of three other people – including a senior military commander – grabbed by the rebels on Nov. 16 in the northwestern province of Choco.
Gen. Ruben Dario Alzate, Cpl. Jorge Rodriguez and attorney Gloria Urrego were seized while traveling without escort in a remote hamlet of Choco, a mostly jungle province where the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, have a strong presence.
The rebels’ action led President Juan Manuel Santos to suspend the peace talks with the FARC in Cuba, but the guerrillas announced a week ago that they were working with the Red Cross and the guarantor nations to arrange the release of Alzate and his companions and the two soldiers captured in Arauca.
Santos has said that the negotiations will resume once all five prisoners are handed over to the Red Cross.
Following Tuesday’s release of Rivera and Diaz, the FARC said they were still waiting for the military to stand down in the area of Choco designated for the handover of the general and his companions.
“We hope that the operations directed by the Defense Ministry and the military siege against the civilian population are suspended immediately, so the liberation of the people mentioned takes place without shocks and without risks to any of the parties,” the FARC negotiators in Havana said in a statement.