BOGOTA, Colombia - Soldiers yesterday freed two high-ranking police officers and an army sergeant, who were among Colombia's longest-held rebel captives, in a raid in southern jungles.
President Alvaro Uribe announced the rescue of police Gen. Luis Mendieta and Col. Enrique Murillo, both captured by the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, in a November 1998 siege of the remote eastern provincial capital of Mitu.
Also freed was soldier Arbey Delgado, who was held since an August 1998 rebel attack on an anti-drug outpost in the southern jungle town of Miraflores, according a Defense Ministry official.
Uribe did not provide details of the rescue other than to say, "The combat is continuing." Yesterday was Mendieta's 53rd birthday.
Gen. Javier Florez said that the rescue occurred in the southeastern province of Guaviare and that several rebels were killed during more than three hours of combat. "The freed hostages are alive and well," he said. "They are not wounded."
Uribe spoke by phone with Mendieta's wife, Maria Teresa Paredes, and with Murillo's mother, Robertina Sanchez.
"I am the happiest woman in the world," a sobbing Paredes told Caracol radio. "God heard our prayers."
Murillo's brother Emiliano said that his family was watching a World Cup football match when a TV news bulletin announced the rescue.
"Can you imagine how we felt?" a sobbing Emiliano Murillo said. "There is a lot of joy in the family, but it's not complete because more prisoners are out there."
Many families of the captives publicly discourage the government from mounting military rescues. They fear that the guerrillas, as they have done in the past, will execute their loved ones at the first sign of attack. The FARC still holds about 20 hostages.
In July 2008, soldiers posing as members of a humanitarian mission freed former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, three U.S. contractors and 11 police and military officials held by the FARC. That was the last military rescue until yesterday.