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Colombia favorable to rebel offer to free tourists
( 2003-10-29 10:31) (Agencies)

The Roman Catholic Church said on Tuesday Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe has reacted favorably to an offer by leftist rebels to free seven kidnapped foreign tourists but that some details need to be ironed out.

The National Liberation Army, known by its Spanish initials ELN, said on Monday it would release the backpackers it took hostage last month -- four Israelis, a German, a Briton and a Spaniard -- but asked the government to allow a United Nations representative and two ELN spokesmen to witness the hand-over.

One of the two ELN spokesmen is in a government prison.

"There is a green light, there is goodwill. We now need to iron out some points," Father Dario Echeverry told reporters after meeting with Uribe at the Presidential Palace.

The 5,000-member ELN, which says it is fighting for socialist reforms in Colombia's war, insisted last week on handing over the Spanish backpacker to a group of Basque politicians as a gesture of "solidarity" toward Spain's Basque minority.

Uribe rejected that offer, saying he would not allow "an international show."

The Catholic Church is working to help free the tourists with Uribe's approval. The ELN usually kidnaps for ransom but said it abducted the tourists at the "Lost City" Indian ruins in northern Colombia to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the coup that toppled leftist Chilean President Salvador Allende.

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