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Colombia: American hostages freed

30-04-1998 News Release 98/17

Three United States citizens captured on 23 March 1998 by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) were handed over last week to an ICRC team including Colombian Red Cross workers in the mountainous region of Los Alpes, some 100 km south-east of Bogotá. A woman hostage was freed on 24 April, and her two companions were released the next day. All three were immediately taken to Villavicencio and then flown on a Red Cross plane to Bogotá, where they were handed over to United States embassy staff.

In a bid to ensure greater compliance with the basic rules of international humanitarian law, the ICRC maintains contact with nearly all irregular armed groups in Colombia, whether guerrilla forces or private self-defence organizations. In incidents involving hostage-taking, the ICRC seeks to obtain confirmation from the captors that they are indeed holding the people concerned, to enable the hostages to get in touch with their families by means of Red Cross messages, and to gain access to them to make sure that they are well treated and in good health.

At times the ICRC may step in to facilitate the hostages'release, but only if asked by the families and the abductors. Delegates never become involved in any negotiations concerning the release of the captives. The ICRC delegation in Colombia is currently following some 500cases of persons held by irregular armed groups. In 1997, it helped in the release of 270people.