Colombia's largest rebel group, The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), agreed to release the last ten hostages -- all soldiers and policemen, many of whom have been held in captivity for 14 years.
Set to be released on Monday and Wednesday in two groups, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) along with the former Colombian senator Piedad Córdoba have coordinated the pick-up. Two Brazilian military helicopters are positioned near a Colombian jungle to collect the first set of hostages.
The helicopters arrived in Villavicencio airport. The International Committee of the Red Cross is facilitating this operation after agreement between the parties involved.
The FARC rebel group is notorious for their use of kidnapping as a coercive tactic and a strategy to pressure the Colombian government, abducting 4,000 individuals in the year 2000 alone, including soldiers, police, political figures, and even civilians.
In fact, FARC rebels make a point to refer to their captives, not as hostages, but instead as "prisoners of war."
This particular release sets the stage for possible peace negotiations, after five decades of conflict between FARC rebels and the Colombian government. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos asserted that the release was a necessary condition for peace-talks.
Ms. Córdoba, who is overseeing the hostage hand-over, considers it a "unilateral gesture of peace" and stated: "Once this is finished, we'll keep working toward negotiations."
Indeed, FARC rebels have already promised to end their practice of kidnapping for ransom.
Meanwhile, the top priority for the government will be to bring these 10 hostages -- who, in Colombian foreign minister Angela Holguín's words, have "suffered such inhuman conditions" -- to safety.
Cartagena, Colombia will host the Sixth Summit of the Americas April 14th and 15th.
---HUMNEWS (A version of this article appeared on the International Business Times)