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Colombian guerrillas release two police hostages

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Colombia's largest guerrilla group, the leftist FARC, released two police officers on Friday they had held for three weeks, the International Committee of the Red Cross said.

The ICRC also said a smaller leftist rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), had separately released five employees of a Canadian mining company kidnapped last month.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) released the two police officers in a rural area in Cauca department in southwestern Colombia and both were in good health, the ICRC said in a statement.

The officers had been kidnapped in a January 25 firefight.

The hostages were delivered to the ICRC -- which often acts as a mediator when guerrillas release hostages -- along with another non-governmental group, Colombians for Peace. Since 2008, more than 30 hostages have been released to these mediators.

The army suspended military operations in the region where the handover took place.

The FARC had originally planned to release their hostages on Thursday. Piedad Cordoba, a former leftist senator who now heads Colombians for Peace, blamed the delay on swarms of journalists that she said had overrun the handover area.

The mediators took the two officers -- identified as Cristian Camilo Yate and Victor Gonzalez -- to the city of Cali, the statement read.

The FARC are also holding a soldier captured in a separate clash, and have said they will release him to the ICRC on Saturday.

The FARC was founded in 1964 and currently has some 8,000 guerrillas. Colombian and FARC negotiators are currently engaged in peace talks in Havana, though neither side has ordered a cease-fire.

Also on Friday, the ICRC said in a separate statement that five Geo Explorer mining employees -- three Colombians and two Peruvians -- had been freed, after being kidnapped by the ELN on January 18.

There was no mention of a Canadian kidnapped at the same time, or of two German tourists separately taken hostage by ELN fighters.

The ELN had said Tuesday in an online statement that they released the five hostages, but the government had never confirmed their release.

The ELN is believed to have some 2,500 fighters, and has carried out previous attacks on oil and mining infrastructure in the area.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130215/colombian-guerrillas-release-two-police-hostages-0