Hostages Released in Columbia

SAN JOSE DEL GUAVIARE, Colombia -- Marxist rebels freed two female hostages from Colombia's jungle Thursday in a deal brokered by Venezuela's leftist president, Hugo Chavez, that could mark a breakthrough in peace efforts.

Two white Venezuelan helicopters with huge Red Cross logos on their sides picked up the hostages from the Colombian jungle around the town of San Jose del Guaviare after a similar plan collapsed on New Year's Eve.

"I told them, 'Welcome to life, welcome to life," Chavez said at his presidential palace in Caracas, relating a telephone conversation he had with the two.

The women were emotional and in good health, Chavez said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, which aided the rescue mission, confirmed that they had been freed.

It was the first major breakthrough for years in moves toward peace between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or the FARC, Latin America's oldest guerrilla group.

Venezuela collected Clara Rojas -- an aide to former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt -- and former congresswoman Consuelo Gonzalez. Rojas had a son with one of her rebel captors while she was held hostage.

The two women had been held for more than five years and will be flown later on Thursday to Venezuela.