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Colombian guerrillas release two police hostages

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Colombia's largest guerrilla group, the leftist FARC, on Friday released two police officers 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 released the two police officers in a rural area in the southwestern Cauca department 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.

But there were more hostilities between the government and FARC on Friday, after three rebels died and three more were injured when rebels attacked an army convoy with explosives on the outskirts of Bogota, military officials said.

It is part of a pattern of stepped up attacks by the leftist fighters.

Earlier this week, the government and the FARC rebels reported progress on the key issue of land redistribution in their peace talks to end Latin America's oldest insurgency.

But that reported progress comes amid renewed battles between the two sides, after rebels ended a self-imposed moratorium on fighting last month.

Since the Marxist guerrillas lifted their unilateral ceasefire on January 20, they have increased attacks on civilian and military targets, taken hostages and blown up oil and energy infrastructure in a bid to force the government to suspend hostilities.

On Tuesday, suspected FARC guerrillas killed a policeman and a boy and wounded 27 others, many of them children, in a grenade and gunfire attack in the southern province of Guaviare.

The FARC was founded in 1964 and 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.

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

There was no mention however of a Canadian kidnapped at the same time by that leftist group.

President Juan Manuel Santos said in a Twitter message Friday that he found it "unacceptable" that the Canadian has not been freed.

There also has been no word of the fate of two German tourists held by the ELN.

The group, with an estimated 2,500 fighters, 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-1