Colombian guerrilla fighters have released the army general whose kidnapping two weeks ago prompted the government to halt peace talks with the rebel group. The release paves the way for negotiations to resume and potentially bring an end to Colombia's 50-year civil war.
Guerrilla fighters from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia — commonly known as the FARC, an abbreviation for the group's name in Spanish — freed Gen. Ruben Alzate and his two companions in the jungle "in perfect condition," President Juan Manuel Santos tweeted Sunday morning.
The militants handed the three captives over to the International Red Cross, who then flew with the men to Medellin, the Associated Press reported.
Santos announced that he "will now meet with the negotiators to discuss their return to Havana," where the talks have been held.
"It's clear that this decision contributes to the appropriate climate to continue the dialogues," Santos said.
FARC members are using the moment to call for a bilateral ceasefire, which the government has continually refused to grant.
"It's the time for a bilateral ceasefire so that no more warlike event occurs to justify the interruption of this peace work," the official FARC Peace Dialogues group tweeted.
The country's peace advocates have also pushed for a ceasefire, and insisted Sunday that the truce talks should resume after their two-week suspension.
"The truce is now possible, if there is the will," Ana Teresa Bernal, high council for Victims' Rights, Peace and Reconciliation Commission in Bogota tweeted. "It should be Colombia's present for Christmas and the new year, Juan Manuel Santos."
Senator Ivan Cepeda called the release of the hostages "good news for Colombia," and said, "peace won."
But opponents of the peace talks — who call the FARC a dangerous "terrorist group" — warned that the group had used the kidnapping to manipulate the government.
"We can't fall in the trap of FARC's terrorism," politician Oscar Ivan Zuluaga tweeted after the release of Alzate. "First they kidnap and then they liberate to demand bilateral ceasefire."
The most notorious peace opponent, former President Alvaro Uribe — accused of using ruthless paramilitary groups that terrorized civilians and fought the FARC while he was in office — tweeted a stream of denunciations against the guerrillas Sunday.
Respected Colombian magazine Semana declared, meanwhile, that the arguments for and against the negotiations were endless — but that the return of the general certainly moves the country toward a truce.
Follow Meredith Hoffman on Twitter: @merhoffman