Bogota, Colombia – Colombia's main rebel group said Sunday it will free the last of its government hostages and abandon the practice of kidnapping.
In the announcement posted to its website, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia said it will free 10 military and police "prisoners of war" it has held for years.
The rebel group, known as the FARC, says the 10 government prisoners are the last under its control, though the government says the rebel group holds at least 12.
A liberation could help advance toward negotiations to end the long civil conflict since the government says the FARC must free all the hostages it holds before talks can start. However, the FARC did not say it was abandoning hostilities.
The new statement also assured that the group will give up the practice of kidnapping, noting that "much has been said about the taking of persons, men or women from the civilian population," to finance rebel activities.
Colombia does not have precise data on the number of kidnapped people, but the anti-kidnapping police agency has said that it had counted 255 through the first 11 months of 2011. It attributed 72 of those to the FARC.
President Santos cautiously praised the rebel group's Sunday statement.
"We value the FARC's announcement to renounce kidnapping as an important and necessary though insufficient step in the right direction," Santos said in a tweet.
The rebels announced on Dec. 27 that they would free six of the captives, but said a month later that they were delaying the release because of a government "militarization" of the area where it said release was planned. Neither the earlier statement nor the new one specified the location or set a date.
The December announcement, also on the rebel website, prompted President Juan Manuel Santos to issue a tweet: "My God, no more tricks and deception. We don't even know where the hostages are. They haven't provided the coordinates. Free them now!"
Latin America's last major rebel movement, the FARC was founded in 1964. It has been releasing captives piecemeal since early 2008.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.