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Venezuela drama ends

world Updated: Jan 30, 2008 23:26 IST

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, 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 kilometres 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.