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Colombia's FARC rebels say they will free captives

An engineer is hugged by a relative on January 31, 2013 in Ibague, Colombia after having been kidnapped by FARC members
An engineer is hugged by a relative on January 31, 2013 in Ibaque, Colombia after having been kidnapped by members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas. Colombia's leftist FARC rebels said Saturday they will free two police offi

Colombia's leftist FARC rebels said Saturday that they will free two captured police officers and a soldier whose abductions had become a source of tension at peace talks with the government.

After an initial round of discussions in Norway, talks aimed at ending Latin America's longest-running insurgency have taken place in Havana.

But since the rebels ended a self-imposed, unilateral ceasefire last month, the negotiations have been marred by skirmishes that have claimed lives on both sides. In recent days, four soldiers, three police and five rebels have died.

Progress in the talks -- which resumed at a convention center in the Cuban capital on November 19 -- has also been hampered by the hostage-takings.

The abductions were the first by the FARC since April 2012 when the group freed 10 police and soldiers who had been held captive for years.

Two police officers, Cristian Camilo Yate Sanchez and Victor Alfonso Gonzales Ramirez, were seized last Friday in the southwestern province of Valle del Cauca.

The FARC said they were taken captive while engaging in "intelligence operations aimed at hitting our guerrilla units."

A few days later, rebels captured an unnamed army soldier during skirmishes in the southern state of Narino.

The FARC said it now is ready to hand their captives over to a delegation from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and a nonprofit organization called Colombians for Peace.

"They are in good shape and being treated with respect," the group said on its website, adding that it will "proceed to take the measures to set them free."

Meanwhile, a Red Cross spokeswoman, Maria Cristina Rivera, told AFP on Saturday that the group is "in contact with all of the involved parties" and is ready to be of assistance in helping free the men.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos this week vowed not to yield to the guerrillas' demands to force a truce through kidnappings.

The rebels' chief negotiator Ivan Marquez on Friday reiterated the FARC's commitment to the peace talks, but blamed renewed fighting on the government, saying in Havana that Bogota had ordered new offensives, prompting the rebels' "legitimate resistance."

The Marxist rebels had offered to extend their ceasefire provided the government declared one too. But Bogota said it preferred to maintain military pressure on the FARC during the negotiations.

The government, represented by negotiator Humberto de la Calle, estimates that 600,000 people have been killed by armed groups and the security forces during the conflict, and some 3.7 million Colombians have been displaced.

The FARC, formed in 1964, have an estimated 8,000 fighters.

The talks with the government are the first in a decade, after three previous attempts at a negotiated peace failed.

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