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Bogota siege ends safely

The two-month-old hostage drama at the Dominican Embassy in Colombia ended peacefully Sunday -- and without any of the governments involved caving in to the demands of militant embassy captors.

The militants have accepted asylum in Cuba. Their last 16 diplomatic hostages have been released. And their ransom demands are going virtually unmet.

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Ambassadors from Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Egypt, and Israel were freed in Bogota. Militants took 12 other diplomats with them on a Cuban jetliner to Havana, where they were then released. US Ambassador Diego Asencio was among these hostages, and he flew on to Washington for consultations with US officials.

The Colombian ordeal -- which began Feb. 27 when guerrillas of Movimiento de 19 Abril (Movement of April 19, or M-19) stormed a diplomatic reception at the Dominican Republic Embassy and took 58 guests hostage -- was potentially as serious as that in Tehran, Iran.

Indeed, the government seriously considered taking the embassy back with military force in March, no matter what happened to the hostages. And on at least two occasions, the M-19 guerrillas threatened to kill a hostage daily until the Colombian government acceded to their demands.

But apparently the guerrillas, aware thay they had reached an impasse after 24 sessions of negotiating with the government, and aware that they were not going to get their demands met, agreet to Cuban asylum simply as a way out.

Their demands originally included release of nearly 300 M-19 comrades held in Colombian jails, including two of the top three M-19 leaders, and a ransom of $ 50 million. Gradually they scaled down these demands until they asked for release of just a handful of their comrades and a ransom of $2.5 million. They released hostages one by one until they held only 16, including US Ambassador Diego Asencio.

The Colombian government evidently has agreed to release some guerrillas -- but not members of the M-19. Those to be released are prisoners who are in jails without being charged with crimes.

Colombia has also apparently promised to speed the trials of the nearly 300 jailed M-19 members. Under a compromise worked out with the M-19, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission will monitor trials, which are to be handled by military courts.

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It is understood that Colombian businessmen representing the governments of two of the ambassadors held hostage had put together a $2.2 million ransom. But it is not known whether the guerrillas actually got that money or whether this was factor in negotiations.


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