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Venezuela bank robbers surrender after hostage standoff

by Jaime Lopez*

Four heavily armed bank robbers freed six hostages and surrendered on Tuesday when police intercepted an ambulance they tried to flee in, ending a tense 29-hour standoff.
Guarico state Governor Eduardo Manuitt confirmed to VTV television that the robbers, who had used both drugs and alcohol, were caught on the road east of Caracas.
"We blocked the road and they threw their weapons down to come out," Manuitt said.
Officials said all the money taken from the bank was recovered as well, but gave not figures.
VTV television said they were nabbed at 5:40 pm (2210 GMT), a few hours after they left the bank in Altagracia de Orituco with the six hostages in the ambulance provided in a deal negotiated with officials.
The deal involved officials holding the mother, aunt and mother-in-law of the robbers' leader in order to guarantee the safety of the hostages they took in the ambulance.
"We have the family members of the criminals in our hands, as our guarantee. We are not going to harm them, to protect the hostages. We hope that they keep the deal," Manuitt had said.
Their capture brought an end to the episode which began on Monday when the four men in their 20s, armed with rifles and grenades, tried to rob a branch of Banco Provincial, a local subsidiary of Spain's BBVA banking group, in Altagracia de Orituco in Guarico state, 80 kilometers (50 miles) southwest of Caracas.
The robbery went wrong when a police patrol happened on the site just as the heist got underway, prompting the robbers to seize some 30 customers and bank employees inside.
The hostages included three children, a mother and her infant, and a woman eight months pregnant.
During the siege they set free two elderly people, the pregnant woman and early Tuesday a bank employee needing medical attention.
One of the hostages, Carlos Gil, said things got tense inside the bank when the robbers shot at a bank guard.
Gil added that the hostages inside the bank were given little food to eat.
"They decided they would not worry about us, that a little morsel was enough," Gil said.
Interior Minister Ramon Rodriguez Chacin said the critical moment was when one of the robbers was infuriated at seeing his mother together with the minister just outside the bank, and fired his gun.
As the drama wound on, hostages put up signs in the windows of the bank: "Bring an ambulance please," and "We are hungy, we are humans."
Local security officials sought to negotiate the hostages' release, and one of the robbers told Radio Caracol that they would not set the children inside the bank free unless they could get the getaway ambulance.
"We do not want any loot at this point. The only thing we want is to save our lives," the man said.
"If we let the kids go, they will kill us," he said, threatening to detonate grenades if police stormed the bank.
Authorities then negotiated to let the men drive off in an ambulance with a handful of hostages.
"A deal was made, we opened the road, we have let them leave," Manuitt said after they left the bank.
"The most important thing is the lives of the hostages and that is what we have achieved," he said.
Officials followed the ambulance by electronic methods and helicopters before it was finally stopped.

*AFP

 

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