A Canadian mining executive who was held by Colombian rebels for 221 days has been freed and is eager to get back to his wife and child in the Toronto area, a company spokesman says.
Gernot Wober was freed in the turbulent northern state where he was seized January 18 along with two Colombian employees and two Peruvian consultants while visiting a gold-mining camp at a concession his company had purchased and was exploring.
The National Liberation Army, known by its Spanish initials ELN, had demanded Wober's employer halt exploration at the Snow Mine property in Sur de Bolivar state, claiming the land was stolen from local communities. Last month, Toronto-based Braeval Mining Corp. said it was pulling out of Colombia.
The International Committee of the Red Cross was on hand for Wober's release, spokesman Marco Yuri Jimenez said. Wober was handed over to the ICRC and a Jesuit priest, the Rev. Francisco de Roux, in a jungle rendezvous and flown by helicopter to the steamy Magadalena River city of Barrancabermeja.
From there, he travelled to Bogota, where he was sent to hospital so his health could be evaluated.
"From this moment, he is taken care of by the Canadian authorities from the embassy," the ICRC spokesman said, adding that the embassy will help with logistics for Wober's journey back to Canada.
Chris Eby, a spokesman for Braeval Mining, told CBC News that the company's CEO was on hand to greet Wober and reported that the 47-year-old was in "remarkably good humour."
"Of course, he's looking forward to being reunited with his wife and his young son in the Toronto area," Eby said.
Wober has to undergo medical checks and will have to talk to the Colombian government before he returns to Canada, Eby said, but the company is hoping to get him on a flight back to Canada as soon as possible.
When asked whether a ransom had been paid for the company's vice president for exploration, Eby said he couldn't "get into any specifics at all" but said the company worked "day and night" to get Wober out safely.
"This was an absolute top priority for the company since January, since he was kidnapped," he said.
The ELN is far smaller than the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, which is currently engaged in peace talks with the government. Earlier this year, Colombia's president told the smaller group that it would have to release the Canadian in order to participate in the talks.
The ELN's commander, Nicolas Rodriguez, said in a statement posted on the group's website that Wober's release was "a humanitarian act."
With files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press