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Colombian rebel group releases hostage

BOGOTA -- Leftist Colombian guerilla group ELN on Thursday released a soldier it had held hostage since May, a condition for peace talks set by President Juan Manuel Santos, the Red Cross said.

Corporal Carlos Fabian Huertas, “a member of the Armed Forces who was held by the National Liberation army (ELN) was delivered today (Thursday) to a humanitarian mission” in a rural area near the border with Venezuela, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said in a statement.

The ICRC then turned the man over to the army, it said.

Huertas had been captured by the rebels amid clashes on May 22.

The release comes a day after President Santos said he was interested in starting a dialogue with the ELN but would not hold any peace negotiations until the group had released all hostages and stopped kidnapping.

The government is currently in negotiations with the country's largest leftist rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, but so far has rebuffed ELN overtures for talks.

The ELN, the second largest lefist group with some 2,500 fighters, is also holding a Canadian engineer, whose release Santos has called for in particular.

Jernoc Wobert, 47, was abducted in January along with two Peruvians and three Colombians also working for Toronto-based Braeval Mining, which is prospecting for gold and silver in northern Colombia.

The South Americans were released a month later, but the ELN — Spanish for National Liberation Army — held onto the Canadian.

In early June, the rebel group said it was willing to release the kidnapped Canadian soon, though it has not done so yet.

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