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Rebels 'ready to free hostages'

Colombia's largest rebel group has said it is ready to start freeing 10 soldiers and police officers who have been held prisoner for up to 14 years.

But the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) also said it was waiting for president Juan Manuel Santos to allow a group of activists to visit jailed guerrillas.

A statement on FARC's website said that the group planned to release the captives in two groups, and that now all that was left is for Mr Santos to allow the prison visits.

The rebel group has not specified a date for freeing hostages. Former Colombian senator Piedad Cordoba, who has served as a go-between, has said she expects the release will happen no later than the first week of April.

Later, Colombia's military said FARC fighters had killed 11 soldiers in an attack in the north east, near the border with Venezuela. It was the highest toll for the army since rebels killed 10 soldiers in each of two separate attacks in October.

A statement on the military's website said yesterday's attack occurred in the Arauquita municipality about 250 miles north east of Bogota. It said rebels ambushed an army patrol in the border zone, killing 11 soldiers and wounding two.

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