August 1, 2011 / 2:58 AM / 8 years ago

Rebels free five kidnapped Colombian oil workers

BOGOTA, July 31 (Reuters) - Five Colombian oil contractors kidnapped by FARC guerrillas were freed on Sunday after military pressure to rescue the hostages, a senior army officer said.

Guerrillas from the FARC — Latin America’s longest running insurgency — snatched the five workers on Friday night, the military said, in the eastern Arauca province, one of Colombia’s most violent border states.

“We started an operation with three battalions in the area where the guerrillas fled with the hostages to secure the release of these people while trying to avoid combat so as not to hurt the workers. We did it,” General Jaime Reyes, commander of the Army’s 18th Brigade, told Reuters.

The five were contractors for two companies that worked for Occidental Petroleum (OXY.N) in its Caricare oil field, which produced an average of 12,000 barrels per day last year.

Rebels have been fighting the Colombian state since the 1960s. Although security has improved under a U.S.-backed crackdown launched a decade ago, kidnappings and attacks still happen regularly, especially against the oil sector. (Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; writing by Jack Kimball; editing by Chris)

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