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Colombian leftist guerrillas free two high-level hostages

A deal brokered by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez could pave the way for the liberation of dozens of others being held in rebel camps.

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Colombian leftist guerrillas released two of their most prized hostages Thursday, in a deal brokered by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez that could pave the way for a broad agreement for the liberation of dozens of others being held in rebel camps.

Politicians Clara Rojas and Consuelo Gonzalez were whisked from the jungles of southern Colombia where they had been held for six years to the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, into the embrace of their families.

"They are finally safe, they are free," Ms. González's daughter Patricia Perdomo told Colombian radio from her hotel room in Caracas, her voice trembling with emotion.

It's the most important hostage release in the Colombian conflict since 2001, when the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, freed some 300 soldiers and police officers and it's being hailed as a political victory for Mr. Chávez and Colombian President Álvaro Uribe.

A delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Venezuela's interior minister, and Cuba's ambassador to Caracas received the two women from a rebel unit at an undisclosed meeting point. To facilitate the mission, Colombia suspended military operations in the area and closed the airspace above.

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