CARACAS (AFP) — Four Colombian lawmakers begin their first full day of freedom Thursday, the day after being released by FARC guerrillas.
Speaking in Caracas, they told of their years-long ordeal and of other captives left behind in the jungles of Colombia.
"It's the greatest feeling: to be born again. You can't imagine the horrors of living seven years in the subhuman conditions we were kept," Luis Eladio Perez told reporters late Wednesday after being picked up by Red Cross officials flown in on Venezuelan aircraft.
He explained he had survived a heart-attack, three diabetic comas and a kidney malfunction because of tropical diseases.
He also said he feared for the most high-profile prisoner still held by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Ingrid Betancourt, and vowed to do all to have her freed as well.
Betancourt, a 46-year-old French-Colombian who was seized in 2002 as she campaigned for the Colombian presidency, was "very, very sick, physically and morally spent," he said, adding that he last saw her on February 4.
Perez said three Americans captured in 2003 by the rebels were also faring badly, adding that they would likely remain in captivity unless a FARC leader who was jailed for 60 years in January gets his sentence reduced by US courts.
Perez and the three other freed hostages -- Gloria Polanco, Orlando Beltran and Jorge Gechem -- were recovered Wednesday by Red Cross and Venezuelan officials.
They were flown out of the southern Colombian jungle in two Venezuelan helicopters bearing the Red Cross symbol and later flown by plane to Caracas.
The four had spent more than six years in the hands of the Marxist FARC, who constantly moved them around in tropical woodland to prevent their rescue by the Colombian military.
It was the second such joint Red Cross-Venezuelan mission in as many months.
In both cases, the FARC said it would only hand the hostages over to services commanded by leftwing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who has rocky relations with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.
After the latest hostage release, the FARC called for the Colombian government to make concessions on one of the rebels' principal demands: that a temporary demilitarized zone be created around two rural munipalities.
It wants the zone to be used for negotiations in which more hostages will be released in return for the freeing of 500 rebels in Colombian prisons.
"Now the army must leave (the towns of) Pradera and Florida for 45 days, with guerrillas and an international community presence as guarantors, so negotiations can take place in this area for the liberation of the guerrillas and the prisoners of war held by the FARC," it said in a statement delivered to the Caracol radio station.
US State Department spokesman Tom Casey, while welcoming Wednesday's development, said it was "reprehensible that the FARC ... continue to hold hostages, including our (three) American citizen contractors who have now spent several years in captivity."
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, said a spokesman, hopes FARC's "positive gesture will be soon followed by further releases ... and renews his call for all hostages ... to be freed as quickly as possible," including Betancourt.
Chavez late Wednesday made a "from the heart" appeal to top FARC leader Manuel Marulanda to move Betancourt to a safe location "urgently."
"I'll send you a message through our regular channels to see how we can go about releasing Ingrid," Chavez said during a meeting with reporters.
The rebels' insistence on Chavez heading up the two recovery operations appeared to be intended to embarrass the Colombian government, which has been resisting their demands.
The Venezuelan leader, whose fierce anti-US rhetoric runs counter to Uribe's pro-Washington position, has nettled his neighbor by suggesting the FARC be dropped from US and EU terror organization lists and be regarded as a legitimate armed political force.
Chavez's spokesman Jesse Chacon told reporters late Wednesday: "The only way out of this is a negotiated settlement and a political settlement. There is no military solution to the conflict in Colombia."
He added that, with the FARC's release of the four, it was expected "the Colombian government will also make a gesture."
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