updated 2/1/2009 7:44:22 PM ET 2009-02-02T00:44:22

Four Colombian hostages delivered by leftist rebels to the International Red Cross have landed safely at a provincial airport.

The three police officers and a soldier were met with hugs, applause and white daisies after stepping out of a Brazilian helicopter that touched down at the Villavicencio regional airport shortly after sunset on Sunday.

The policemen were seized in June 2007 at a roadblock, and the soldier was captured six months earlier during combat in southern jungles.

On the airport tarmac, a journalist who accompanied the mission complained that Colombia's military tried to frustrate the release with two hours of overflights.

The government called the accusations baseless.

"The operation was basically on the verge of being aborted," Luis Enrique Botero told the Venezuelan television network Telesur by satellite phone just before the handover. He said he had recordings to prove it.

Colombia's peace commissioner, Luis Carlos Restrepo, said the government honored an agreement with the Red Cross for no military flights beneath 20,000 feet (6,100 meters) during the liberation.

Captured in 2007
Captured by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia in 2007, they are among six hostages the FARC pledged to free this week. The other two, the only Colombian politicians believed still in rebel hands, have been held far longer.

Analysts consider this week's unconditional releases — the guerrillas' first in nearly a year — a goodwill gesture. However, chances for a peace dialogue with Colombia's government remain far off. The alleged military interference Sunday was only apt to complicate matters.

Also speaking with Telesur from the handover site, a guerrilla commander who identified himself as Jairo Martinez accused Colombia's military of killing a rebel in his unit in combat on Sunday morning.

The government peace commissioner, Restrepo, did not directly deny the allegation, but said, "We are accustomed to the lies of the FARC."

The Western Hemisphere's last rebel army announced this week's releases on Dec. 21 in response to a plea from Colombian intellectuals.

President Alvaro Uribe, however, has resisted FARC attempts to negotiate a prisoner swap, and last month accused the rebels of "deceiving the country with talk of peace."

He has frequently been at odds with the opposition lawmaker who helped engineer this week's releases, Sen. Piedad Cordoba. She is a close ally of Venezuela's leftist president, Hugo Chavez.

Military has weakened rebels
Colombia's U.S.-backed military has seriously weakened the rebels in the past two years, killing top commanders, compelling hundreds of desertions with hefty rewards and forcing the rebels into virtual radio silence with sophisticated surveillance.

FARC commander Alfonso Cano, meanwhile, has refused to renounce kidnapping, a key rebel political and fundraising tool. The guerrillas' main revenue source is the cocaine trade.

It is not known how many hostages are held by the FARC, which has sought the overthrow of successive Colombian governments for 45 years, though the government says they currently include just one foreigner, a Swede identified as Roland Larsson kidnapped in May 2007.

No ransom demand
The man's son, Tommy, told The Associated Press in Sweden that he recently received a proof-of-life video but no ransom demand.

"A doctor saw the video and it appears that he had suffered from a stroke. His right arm, leg and parts of his face are paralyzed," Larsson said. "Daddy is old and sick. He has lost weight. He looks weak."

At least 22 Colombian soldiers and police continue to be held by the FARC as bargaining chips. They include a police general seized more than a decade ago and Cpl. Pablo Moncayo, 28, who was captured in December 1997 during a raid on a remote mountain outpost.

Moncayo's anguished father, Gustavo, told the AP on Sunday that he didn't understand why the FARC was releasing security-force members held for a comparatively short time.

"I don't know. It's something they're doing that's beyond logic and reason," he said.

Releases greeted by hope, skepticism
The releases were greeted with hope, but also considerable skepticism.

"This is movement. It's a step forward. But it's not enough. All the hostages need to be released," Democratic Rep. James McGovern, of Massachusetts, told the AP.

A critic of Uribe's human rights record who has been active in efforts to spur peace talks with the FARC, McGovern said he also is frustrated by the rebels' intransigence.

On Monday, the rebels are to hand over former provincial Gov. Alan Jara, 51, who was kidnapped in July 2001. Former provincial lawmaker Sigifredo Lopez is to be released on Wednesday.

Lopez, 45, was grabbed in April 2002 along with 11 other provincial lawmakers in a daring rebel raid on the Valle del Cauca state assembly in western Colombia.

The FARC freed six politicians early last year to Venezuelan representatives.

The rebels subsequently lost three members of their ruling junta: one in a government raid, another killed by a bodyguard and the third, founding leader Manuel Marulanda, of an apparent heart attack.

In a bloodless ruse on July 2, Colombian military agents posing as members of an international humanitarian mission rescued 15 hostages, including Colombian-French politician Ingrid Betancourt and three U.S. military contractors. .

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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