Leftist Colombian guerrillas free two kidnapped pilots


BOGOTA — Leftist FARC guerrillas released two civilian helicopter pilots they were holding hostage to members of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the group said.

The pilots, who were kidnapped July 10, were taken to the city of Popayan, 650 kilometers (404 miles) southwest of Bogota, where they met with relatives, the ICRC said in a statement.

Pilots Juan Carlos Alvarez and Alejandro de Jesus Ocampo were handed over to representatives of the ICRC and a local human rights non-governmental organization in a remote area in the jungle-covered Cauca province, the ICRC said.

“Hopefully this will be a learning moment, so that this does not happen to any Colombian ever again,” Alvarez told Caracol television. “I hope that we will be able to live in a Colombia that is at peace.”

Jordi Raich, the ICRC’s representative in Colombia, said “we are pleased to have been able to make it possible for these people to be back with their loved ones.”

Ocampo, the second pilot, in turn underscored to Caracol that the hardest part of being held hostage was “being separated from family, and not knowing if you will get your life back.”

On July 25 Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia guerrillas issued a statement asking for ICRC and the NGO representatives to act as intermediaries so they could release the pilots.

The rebels captured the pilots when their helicopter made an emergency landing in a football field in the village of El Plateado, in the municipality of Argelia, in Cauca province.

The rebels charged that the helicopter had been flying surveillance over a local area from the towns of Argelia, to Guapi and Timbiqui in Cauca — for over two months.

Founded in 1964, the FARC is the oldest and largest leftist guerrilla group in the country with some 9,200 fighters.

An NGO named Pais Libre (Free Country) said in a recent report that the FARC has lowered its rate of kidnapping this year.

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