A National Police officer being held captive by the FARC guerrilla group was found alive by army troops in the same area of southern Colombia where four other captives were executed by the rebels, officials said.

Luis Alberto Erazo Maya, a non-commissioned officer, heard Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, guerrillas shooting his fellow captives Saturday and "made the decision to take off running," Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon said.

"He ran and hid in the jungle. He was pursued, according to what was reported, by three terrorists from the FARC organization who even threw grenades at him," Pinzón said, adding that the police officer was wounded.

Erazo's escape brought good news on a day darkened by the FARC's execution of four long-time captives in a rural area outside Solano, a city in the jungle province of Caqueta, the defense minister said.

Army Sgt. Jose Libio Martínez Estrada, kidnapped almost 14 years ago and until now the FARC hostage with the longest time in captivity, National Police Lt. Col. Edgar Yesid Duarte Valero, Maj. Elkin Hernández Rivas and quartermaster Alvaro Moreno were killed by the rebels.

Soldiers found "four bodies, four persons killed. Three of them were shot in the head and one was shot in the back," Pinzón said.

Martínez was captured on Dec. 21, 1997, when the rebels took the Patascoy military base in Nariño province.

Yesid Duarte and Hernández Rivas were taken prisoner by the FARC on Oct. 13, 1998, while Erazo and Moreno were captured during an attack on a police station in Curillo, a city in Caqueta, on Dec. 9, 1999.

The soldier and the three police officers were executed by the FARC during a military operation that started six weeks ago, Pinzón said.

A non-governmental organization, meanwhile, said in a statement posted on its Web site that the FARC had been planning to release six hostages as a goodwill gesture to spur a peace dialogue before the military operation was launched.

Colombianos y Colombianas por la Paz, led by former Sen. Piedad Cordoba and a number of other peace activists, said it received a letter from the guerrilla group last Friday.

Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday expressed his "pain" over the captives' execution by the FARC and called for an end to the violence in Colombia, Colombian Ambassador to the Holy See Cesar Mauricio Velasquez told Efe.

Benedict XVI has called on numerous occasions for the release of the hostages being held by the FARC and an end to the violence and kidnappings in the Andean nation.

The FARC, a Marxist rebel army that has fought a decades-old struggle against a succession of Colombian governments, once held as many as 60 police officers, soldiers and politicians it hoped to trade for hundreds of jailed guerrillas.

It is now believed that the FARC is holding just over a dozen "exchangeable" captives.

The guerrillas have told Colombian officials in the past that captives would be killed if the fighters holding them came under attack from the security forces.

In 2007, 11 provincial lawmakers were killed while in rebel hands. The FARC claimed they died in the crossfire during an armed clash, but a government investigation determined they had all been shot at close range by the rebels. 

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