Colombia to send committee for release of German hostages

Mon Feb 25, 2013 9:12pm EST
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By Luis Jaime Acosta

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia's government on Monday authorized a committee of civilians and Red Cross officials to travel to a jungle zone where it hopes two German hostages will be freed by the nation's second-largest guerrilla group.

The National Liberation Army (ELN) said in early February they had captured two German men in Catatumbo, near the border with Venezuela, the second time in a month it seized foreigners.

"They sent us a message saying that if we authorized the Red Cross and a committee that already exists to interact with the ELN ... they would immediately release the two German hostages," President Juan Manuel Santos said.

"I'm going to give the authorization so those German citizens are free as soon as possible. I expect the ELN to honor their word."

The ELN identified the two captives as Uwe Breuer and Gunther Otto Breuer. The rebels initially said they considered them to be intelligence agents because they could not explain why they were in the area.

The German government, however, said they were pensioners traveling in a four-wheel drive through South America.

The ELN is not engaged in talks currently underway in Cuba to bring an end to five decades of war between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the country's largest rebel group known as FARC.

Attempts by previous governments to halt the war ended in shambles and helped energize the FARC and intensify fighting. Santos' popularity has been falling for about a year, in part because many perceive the rebels are gaining ground.   Continued...

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos is seen at the summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) in Santiago, January 28, 2013. REUTERS/Eliseo Fernandez