Former politician, rebel guard escape from Colombian guerrillas

Bogota, Oct 27 (IANS) Former Colombian congressman Oscar Tulio Lizcano, held hostage by the leftwing rebels for eight years, escaped his captors, along with his guerrilla guard.

Lizcano and his guard walked for three days in the dense jungles of the northwest and eventually ran into an army camp Sunday, Spain’s EFE news agency Monday quoted Defence Minister Juan Manuel Santos as saying.

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The Conservative Party member of parliament was kidnapped in August 2000, from Caldas province, some 250 km northwest of Bogota, by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the largest and fiercest of the gurrilla groups in the country.

Two of his compatriots are still in the captivity of the FARC.

Santos and Lizcano appeared together before the press in the southwestern city of Cali.

The former politician appeared haggard, scarcely able to speak, and needed help from Santos to walk to the venue of the press conference.

All through his long captivity, he was prohibited from speaking with his captors, Lizcano said, adding that eight years of silence had affected his faculty to speak coherently.

“I want to thank the person who had the courage and the nerve to leave with me, with a very sick old man – the commander who made that decision,” were the first few words he said with apparent difficulty to thank the guerrilla known as “Isaza”.

He also thanked President Alvaro Uribe, the Colombian army for exerting strong military pressure on the rebel group, and especially his wife Martha, saying he regretted not being able to bring her the last 20 poems he wrote to her during his captivity.

Lizcano sent a message of support to the two hostages who were still in FARC captivity.

“Have courage. If I made this great effort, for God’s sake stay strong. I was there for nine years and I know that they’re going to get out and enjoy freedom,” he said.

Santos said that the pressure of Colombian troops on the guerrillas in Choco province, where authorities knew for several months that Lizcano was being held, forced Isaza to make the decision to escape along with the ex-congressman.

“They’re very demoralized, dead from hunger and what we see is that they’re going to run away in a stampede. This shakes them up a lot because their morale is down on the ground and this blow has just sunk them,” he added.

On July 2, the Colombian army rescued former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, US military contractors Thomas Howes, Keith Stansell and Marc Gonsalves, and 11 other Colombian police officers and soldiers.

The FARC had been trying to trade the 15 captives, along with 25 other “exchangeables”, for hundreds of jailed guerrillas.

The rebels’ most valuable bargaining chip was Betancourt, a dual Colombian-French citizen the FARC seized in February 2002 whose captivity raised great concern across Europe.

The FARC is on both the US and European Union lists of terror groups. Drug trafficking, extortion and kidnapping for ransom are the outfit’s main means of financing its operations.