An angry mob in Guatemala that took 29 police officers hostage released the officers Friday in exchange for talks with the government on legalizing their lands and possibly dropping charges against a jailed farm leader, a human rights official said.
"We spoke with our people in the town, and I can confirm that the 29 agents were released and are in perfect health," Rolando Yoc, chief advocate at the Human Rights Prosecutor's office, told The Associated Press.
Police officials had originally put the number of kidnapped officers at 30 but later said there were 29.
The office worked to end the standoff in the Caribbean coastal town of Livingston, where the mob of hundreds took the policemen captive Thursday night and threatened to kill them unless authorities agreed to release a jailed farm leader accused of leading land seizures.
The crowd had surrounded the police station, disarmed the agents and took them in small boats to their remote village of Maya Creek, said police spokesman Faustino Sanchez.
Human rights prosecutor Sergio Morales, who is involved in efforts to end the standoff, said earlier Friday that a deal had apparently been reached with the townsfolk.
"They are just waiting for the Interior Ministry personnel to arrive in the town, to hand over the officers and their weapons," Morales said.
If the policemen are handed over, the government will fly three town representatives to Guatemala City for talks with officials who handle land issues, he said.
Jailhouse phone call to villagers
Silvia Palencia, an administrative director for the province of Izabal, said a convoy of three vehicles was heading toward Livingston to remove the officers.
Farm leader Ramiro Choc, who was arrested Feb. 14 on charges of illegal land invasion, robbery and illegally holding people against their will, had urged his supporters to release the police officers in a telephone call from jail on Thursday, Interior Department spokesman Ricardo Gatica said.
It was unclear whether Choc's release was still part of the mob's demands.
Officials accused Choc of inciting community residents to invade land and take over protected nature reserves. The mob wants the government to give legal recognition to the land takeovers.