After three months in captivity, four Israelis and a Briton have begun their final trek to freedom in the jungle-covered mountains of northern Colombia, a member of a humanitarian mission said on Sunday. \nThe five kidnapped backpackers were heading to an undisclosed location in the Sierra Nevada mountains where they are expected to be released by their rebel captors this week, said Cesar Velasquez, a member of the commission which has been negotiating the hostages' release. \nThe hostages left their latest base camp in the last few days and were expected to arrive at the meeting spot by yesterday, where commission members were to receive them. \nRebels from the National Liberation Army, or ELN, said last week they would release the five hostages before the end of the year. On Thursday, Defense Minister Jorge Alberto Uribe told local radio that the hundreds of Colombian troops in the region would ease offensive operations to permit the release. \n"Things seem to be moving in the right direction," said Sharelle Henderson, the mother of captive British television producer Mark Henderson. "But until we are sure and we hear his voice, we are being very careful." \nELN gunmen seized Henderson and seven other foreign backpackers from jungle ruins in the northern Sierra Nevada mountains on Sept. 12. One of the hostages, a British teenager, escaped days later. Two other hostages -- a German and a Spaniard -- were released to the humanitarian commission in November. \nAuthorities have identified the remaining hostages as Beni Daniel, 26, Orpaz Ohayon, 22, Ido Yosef Guy, 26, and Erez Altawil, 24 -- all from Israel, and Henderson, 31, of Britain. \nThe ELN said it kidnapped the foreign backpackers to raise awareness about the alleged hardship inflicted by outlawed right-wing paramilitary factions and the army on the mainly Indian inhabitants of the Sierra Nevada. \nColombia has the world's highest kidnapping rate, with some 3,000 abductions per year. Most are carried out by the nation's two leftist rebel groups -- the ELN and the larger Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC. \nOn Sunday, President Alvaro Uribe, who is not related to the defense minister, announced that a former president would join another commission that is seeking a humanitarian accord with the FARC under which the government would free insurgents in jail in exchange for Colombians being held hostage. \nAlfonso Lopez, who was president of Colombia from 1974 to 78, joins two Roman Catholic priests already working on the issue. \nIn a statement, Uribe said that any future agreement could not go against his security policies, and that rebels leaving jail must promise they "would not go back to committing crimes."
Henry Tong (湯偉雄) and Elaine To (杜依蘭) were preparing to spend their first wedding anniversary in separate prison cells until their acquittal for rioting during Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests. There were gasps and tears of relief in court on Friday last week as a judge declared prosecutors had failed to prove that the couple took part in clashes with police in July last year. The pair walked free in a ruling that has potential consequences for hundreds of other protesters facing similar charges. However, they have a long journey ahead as they try to rebuild their lives and business. “We have already been punished,”
WARNINGS OVER COMPLACENCY: The curves of new infections in numerous countries is climbing, while others see the the first new infections in months Spikes in COVID-19 infections in Asia have dispelled any notion that the region might be over the worst, with Australia and India yesterday reporting record daily infections, Vietnam fretting over a new surge and North Korea urging vigilance. Asian nations had largely prided themselves on rapidly containing initial outbreaks after the coronavirus emerged in central China late last year, but flare-ups this month have shown the danger of complacency. “We’ve got to be careful not to slip into some idea that there’s some golden immunity that Australia has in relation to this virus,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters. Australia recorded its
The Australian government yesterday said that it plans to give Google and Facebook three months to negotiate with media businesses fair pay for news content. In releasing a draft of a mandatory code of conduct, Canberra aims to succeed where other nations have failed in making tech firms pay for news siphoned from commercial media companies. Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said that Google and Facebook would be the first platforms targeted by the proposed legislation, but others could follow. “It’s about a fair go for Australian news media businesses, it’s about ensuring that we have increased competition, increased consumer protection and a sustainable
BEIJING REACTS: China announced that Hong Kong’s extradition treaties with Canada, Australia and Britain would be suspended after those nations acted earlier New Zealand yesterday announced that it would suspend its extradition treaty with Hong Kong. The move came after China passed sweeping new security legislation for the territory. New Zealand is the final member of the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing alliance to take such action after the Australia, Britain, Canada and the US previously announced similar measures. New Zealand Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters said that the new legislation goes against commitments China made to the international community. “New Zealand can no longer trust that Hong Kong’s criminal justice system is sufficiently independent from China,” Peters said. Moreover, Wellington would treat military and technology exports to