BOGOTA: A Colombian leftist guerrilla group, the ELN, said it will free a Canadian engineer on Tuesday after holding him for more than seven months.
"Canadian citizen Jernoc Wobert, vice president of exploration of the Braeval Mining Corporation, will recover freedom after being held for 221 days," the group said.
Wobert, 47, was captured by guerrillas in northern Colombia on January 18 along with two Peruvians and three Colombians employed by the Toronto-based mining company.
The South Americans were freed a month later, but the National Liberation Army, or ELN, hung on to Wobert, demanding that the company give up its mining rights.
In late July, Braeval Mining announced that it was pulling out of Colombia because of "unfavorable market conditions," relinquishing its mining rights.
The ELN, Colombia's second largest guerrilla group, said a week ago it would free Wobert to a delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), but gave no date.
In their latest statement, the group said he would be handed over on Tuesday "after guaranteeing him his physical integrity despite the effort required to traverse the length of the San Lucas mountain range from north to south."
When contacted by AFP, the ICRC neither confirmed nor denied that the release operation had begun.
Local media, meanwhile, said that a helicopter bearing the relief agency's distinctive emblem had left the city of Barrancabermeja.
Top ELN commander Nicolas Rodriguez, also known as Gabino, said in comments on the group's website that the pending release was a "humanitarian act" that he hoped would be seen as a "contribution for peace in Colombia."
"We want to highlight that this successful outcome shows that negotiated solutions to conflicts are possible, even if there are competing interests," Rodriguez said.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said last week that Wolbert's release would be a step in the right direction to starting talks between Bogota and the ELN, which has some 2,500 fighters.
Since November, the Santos government has been engaged in talks with the country's largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, in Cuba.
Before the negotiations started, the FARC renounced kidnappings and freed its last hostages in April of last year.