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Colombia rebels ready for hostage release: lawmaker

Kidnapped soldier Pablo Emilio Moncayo is shown in a video in Bogota September 24, 2009. REUTERS/El Tiempo/Alberto Urrego

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombian guerrillas will release the first of two hostage soldiers on Saturday after the army temporarily halts operations in the area where they will be freed, a senator mediating with rebels said on Tuesday.

The FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, plans to release two of the 24 police and soldiers it holds to Senator Piedad Cordoba and the Red Cross who will fly into the country’s southern jungles in Brazilian helicopters.

“Everything is ready for the Red Cross to communicate with Brazil and for the handover operation to go ahead this Saturday,” Cordoba said in a message on her Twitter page.

Pablo Emilio Moncayo, held for more than 12 years, and Josue Daniel Calvo, were to be freed a year ago, but the handover was delayed as rebels and President Alvaro Uribe’s government squabbled over conditions for their release.

Cordoba has said Calvo, captured last year and now seriously ill, will be released first and Moncayo will follow about a day later.

The FARC has released captives in the past, but talks to end Latin America’s oldest-surviving insurgency have never emerged with Uribe, a hard-liner whose U.S.-backed war has battered rebels to their weakest in decades.

Moncayo, one of the FARC’s longest held captives, has become a symbol of troops left behind in the jungles. He was snatched in 1997 when guerrillas overran his army base and has only been seen in rebel videos occasionally since then.

Violence from Colombia’s war has eased sharply since Uribe came to power in 2002 promising to smash the FARC. But rebels are still fighting in rural areas, financed by extortion, kidnapping and cocaine trafficking.

Reporting by Patrick Markey, Editing by Sandra Maler