BOGOTA — Soldiers in a raid in southern jungles yesterday freed two high-ranking police officers who were among Colombia’s longest-held rebel captives, President Alvaro Uribe said.
Both General Luis Mendieta and Colonel Enrique Murillo were captured by the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, in the November 1998 siege of the remote eastern provincial capital Mitu.
Uribe did not provide details of the rescue other than to say, “The combat is continuing.’’
General Javier Florez said the rescue occurred in the southeastern province of Guaviare.
“The freed hostages are alive and well. They are not wounded,’’ he said.
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.’’
Military rescues of hostages are a tricky matter in Colombia.
Many families of the captives publicly discourage the government from mounting such operations. They fear that the guerrillas, as they have done in the past, will execute their loved ones at the first sign of attack.
In July 2008, soldiers posing as members of a humanitarian mission freed former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, three US contractors, and 11 police and military officials held by the FARC.
But that was the last military rescue before yesterday.
The FARC continues to hold about 20 police and soldiers. It freed two officers in March in what it said would be the last unilateral hostage release until the government agrees to a swap for imprisoned rebels.
Uribe’s government has rejected a prisoner swap and demands the rebels free all captives and renounce kidnapping.