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Friday, October 28, 2016
Colombia: hostage release 'imminent'
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 Five remaining hostages, captured by ELN rebels in Colombia's Sierra Nevada jungle, may be home for Christmas, sources revealed at the weekend. CAFOD's Colombian partner, Mgr Héctor Fabio Henao, who has been closely involved in negotiating their release said he expects the five remaining hostages captured in September to be released today or tomorrow. They are: Briton Mark Henderson, and four Israelis: Beni Daniel, Ortaz Ohayon, Ido Joseph Guy and Erez Altawil. Mgr Henao said that the hostages will be brought out of the Sierra Nevada in a helicopter bearing the emblem of Caritas Colombia. A CAFOD spokesperson said "This reflects the unique trust enjoyed by the Catholic Church among all sides in the Colombian conflict. CAFOD has given Caritas Colombia financial support for its humanitarian mission to secure the release of the hostages. Caritas Colombia is a member of Caritas Internationalis the global network of Catholic development agencies. The news follows the publication on 17 December of the report into the situation of the population of the Sierra Nevada region by a commission including Mgr Henao and the Colombian ombudsman. The report says that the local indigenous communities are suffering severe hardship as a result of conflict between guerrillas and paramilitaries, and calls on the Colombian government to begin a relief programme as well as security measures. After publishing the report, the commission met Colombian President Alvaro Uribe Vélez and held discussions by radio with the central command of the ELN, which have given the green light for the release. Initially eight tourists were captured on 11 September. English student Matthew Scott managed to escape. In November, German tourist Reinhilt Weigel and Asier Huegun Etxeberría from Spain were released, on condition the government brought out the report. At Mgr Henao's request, CAFOD programme officer Francis McDonagh has passed on this news to Mark Henderson's family. His mother, Sherelle, said this confirmed rumours she had heard via the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, but that, after so many ups and downs, she and her husband would not raise their hopes too much until Mark's release was confirmed.
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