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Colombian rebels free general

Colombia's largest rebel group has freed an army general and two others whose capture led President Juan Manuel Santos to break off peace talks.

Mr Santos said in a message posted on Twitter that Gen Ruben Alzate and two others taken captive by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) have been handed over to a humanitarian mission led by the International Red Cross. He said the three are in good health and would be reunited with their families soon.

Mr Santos had conditioned resumption of peace talks taking place in Cuba on the safe return of the general and his group - an army captain and military lawyer - as well as two rank-and-file soldiers taken during a firefight in a separate incident earlier this month.

Gen Alzate, a US-trained counterinsurgency expert, was snatched by the rebels 14 days ago while travelling on the remote Atrato River in western Colombia. He was the highest-ranking military officer ever seized by the rebel group in 50 years of insurgent fighting.

Now free, the 55-year-old will have to answer questions about why he apparently violated military protocol and ventured into rebel-dominated territory dressed as a civilian and without his normal security detail.

For its part, the Farc is calling for an immediate redesign of the two-year-old peace process, which it says is threatened by the government's refusal to accept a bilateral cease-fire.

The Farc considers military personnel prisoners of war and has expressed disbelief that Mr Santos's government, rather than recognise the Farc's goodwill offer to free the captives, has drawn closer to conservative critics who see it as being too lenient with the rebels.

"We can't let the peace process that has reached such an advanced state be subject to rushed, thoughtless actions that postpone our reconciliation," a rebel leader and member of the Farc's ruling secretariat said in a statement from Havana.

"I'm infinitely happy," Claudia Farfan, wife of Gen Alzate, said.

After receiving a phone call from the president informing her that her husband was safe and in good health, she added: "I can smile again."


From Belfast Telegraph