December 12, 2013
WASHINGTON PRAISES COLOMBIAN GOVERNMENT FOR ASSISTANCEMonday, October 28, 2013
FARC frees former US marine after four months in jungle
BOGOTá — Colombia’s FARC guerrillas yesterday released a former US Army private who the guerrillas seized in June after he refused to heed local officials’ warnings and wandered into rebel-held territory.
Kevin Scott Sutay, who is in his late 20s, was quietly turned over to Norwegian and Colombian officials and the International Committee of the Red Cross in the same southeastern region where he had disappeared four months earlier.
Sutay, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, had been backpacking through several Central and South American countries before he was captured by the FARC. He had ignored local police warnings against hiking through a “red zone” for rebel activity in the southeastern province of Guaviare.
In a statement, US Secretary of State John Kerry heaped praise on the Colombia government, thanking Bogotá for its “tireless efforts” in securing the veteran’s release. Kerry also thanked the Reverend Jesse Jackson for advocating Sutay’s release.
“We are pleased about the liberation today of US citizen Kevin Scott Sutay who was in the hands of the FARC,” Kerry said.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, had said it was abandoning kidnapping as a condition for the launching of peace talks that began 11 months ago to end a half-century internal conflict.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos apparently resisted FARC efforts to make what he deemed a “media show” of Sutay’s release and no images were released of the early morning jungle handover or of his reported late-morning arrival in Bogotá.
The rebels had announced in July their intention to free Sutay as a good-faith gesture but the former private’s liberation was delayed. Santos’ firmness on prohibiting a ceremonial release of Sutay included objecting to the FARC-endorsed intercession of Jackson, who met with rebel leaders in Cuba in late September and said then that he would go to Colombia to lobby for on behalf of Sutay’s release.
Sutay was delivered at 11.30am local time to US government representatives at Bogota’s airport, according to a statement issued by the Cuban and Norwegian embassies.
The Red Cross said one of its doctors examined Sutay and he was good to travel and be reunited with his family. It was not immediately clear if he had flown on to the United States.
Sutay was the only foreigner known to be held by Colombian rebels, but it remained unclear as to why the FARC chose to release him now. The FARC and another smaller guerilla group, the ELN, have been fighting the government in a bloody five-decade conflict that has killed more than 200,000. Both are listed as terrorist organizations by the United States and European Union.
The FARC is believed to have around 8,000 fighters, according to government data and the ELN, around 3,000. Their numbers were roughly halved by a decade-long military offensive with the support of the US government.
Sutay was in Colombia as a tourist, the US Embassy has said. The FARC said it captured him on June 20 in the municipality of El Retorno in the southeastern state of Guaviare.
When it announced his capture, the FARC said it suspected him of being an agent of the US government, whose close military assistance in training, logistics, surveillance and intelligence since 2000 has helped Colombia’s government badly weaken the rebels.
“What would you think of a man who is in a war zone, who has a secret camera in his watch, who is carrying (global) positioning equipment... who has a military uniform in his suitcase?” FARC negotiator Rodrigo Granda said at the time.
Local officials in Guaviare and international reporters who encountered Sutay there in mid-June said he appeared to be nothing but a tourist who spoke little Spanish and was determined to travel by land through thick jungle to Puerto Inirida on Colombia’s eastern border with Venezuela.
Pentagon records shared with Associated Press reporters said Sutay was a private, born in 1985, who served in the US Army as a combat engineer from November 2009 to March 2013. He was deployed in Afghanistan for a year ending in November 2011.
Santos, riding high after the announcement, reiterated his commitment to the FARC yesterday, branding those opposed to the negotiations as “vultures of fear.”
“We have some enemies, some gentlemen of fear and war... some say they are a lot like vultures because they live off death, lurking near the living, spreading everything negative... they want to continue the war,” he said.
Herald with AP