Colombian rebels: Expect to free hostages soon

March 17, 2012 - 9:06 PM

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — Colombia's largest rebel group said Saturday that it's ready to start freeing 10 soldiers and police officers who have been held prisoner for as long as 14 years.

But the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia also said it was waiting for President Juan Manuel Santos to permit a group of activists to visit jailed guerrillas.

A statement on FARC's website said that the group plans to release the captives in two groups, and that now all that's left is for Santos to allow the prison visits.

The rebel group hasn't specified a date for freeing hostages. Former Colombian Sen. Piedad Cordoba, who has served as a go-between, has said she expects the release will happen no later than the first week of April.

Later Saturday, Colombia's military said FARC fighters had killed 11 soldiers in an attack in the northeast, near the border with Venezuela. It was the highest toll for the army since rebels killed 10 soldiers in each of two separate attacks in October.

A statement on the military's website said Saturday's attack occurred in the Arauquita municipality about 400 kilometers (about 250 miles) northeast of Bogota. It said rebels ambushed an army patrol in the border zone, killing 11 soldiers and wounding two.