Bogota (AFP) – Colombia’s leftist FARC rebels have released a former U.S. Marine after holding him for four months, in a move promptly hailed by Washington on Sunday.
“We welcome the release today of Kevin Scott Sutay from captivity at the hands of the FARC,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement. “The United States is profoundly grateful to the government of Colombia and commends its tireless efforts to secure his release.”
Kerry’s statement came as a delegation from the International Committee of the Red Cross in Colombia announced that the American had been freed.
Sutay was captured on June 20 in the central-eastern Colombian region of Guaviare during a trekking and tourism visit to the known guerrilla area.
Last month, at the request of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), U.S. civil rights activist Jesse Jackson traveled to Colombia for talks to secure Sutay’s freedom.
“We also appreciate the contributions of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the governments of Norway and Cuba in securing Mr Sutay’s freedom,” Kerry said.
“And we thank the Reverend Jesse Jackson for his efforts,” he added.
ICRC official Jordi Raich said Sutay had been examined by a doctor with his group and that he was fit enough to travel.
The release, aside from ICRC monitoring, was observed by representatives of the governments of Colombia, Cuba and Norway, a Red Cross statement said. The names of the monitors were not disclosed.
Another statement from the Cuban and Norwegian governments, released in Havana, said Sutay was handed to U.S. authorities at 11:30 am Sunday at the Bogota airport.
Raich described the 27-year-old American as a very happy, but did not offer any details on his condition.
Jackson had offered to meet Sutay on his release as the FARC requested but Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos rejected that idea insisting that only the ICRC handle it.
The FARC, which now has 7,000-8,000 troops, have waged an insurgency against the state since the Marxist-inspired force’s founding in 1964.
The FARC and Colombian government are negotiating in Havana to try to reach a deal to end Latin America’s longest running insurgency.
The latest peace talks have been under way for nearly a year, with little sign of movement. Four previous attempts to negotiate peace failed.
Meanwhile, the fighting continues in parts of Colombia.
Santos has so far rejected a ceasefire before a peace agreement is reached, saying the rebels have used past truces to regroup.
The FARC observed a unilateral ceasefire for two months after the talks began in November 2012, but they lifted it after the government failed to follow suit.
After 15 rounds of talks, the sides have reached consensus on only one point — land reform issues — from a five-point agenda. Negotiators are currently on the second agenda item — political participation by the FARC.