Colombia’s main leftist rebel group on Sunday 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 Cuban and Norwegian officials, and the International Committee of the Red Cross in the southeastern region from which he disappeared four months earlier.
US Secretary of State John Kerry immediately thanked Bogota in a statement for its “tireless efforts” in securing the Afghanistan war veteran’s release.
Kerry also thanked Reverend Jesse Jackson for advocating for the cause.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (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. Cuba and Norway are serving as facilitators in those talks.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos 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 arrival in Bogota.
The rebels first announced in July their intention to free Sutay as a good-faith gesture, but the liberation was delayed.
On Oct. 8, the FARC published on its Web site what it billed as a recounting of Sutay’s life in his own words that it prefaced by describing him not as the US agent it originally suspected, but rather a vagabond traveler — “a classic gringo, a gum-chewer and marijuana smoker, who with backpack on his back, blue jeans and a few dollars in his pocket lights out to know and travel the world.”
Santos’ firmness in prohibiting a ceremonial release of Sutay included objecting to the FARC-endorsed intercession of Jackson, who met with rebel leaders in Cuba late last month and said then that he would go to Colombia to lobby on behalf of Sutay’s release.
Sutay was delivered to US government representatives at El Dorado International Airport in the capital, according to a statement issued by the Cuban and Norwegian embassies.
When the FARC announced his June 20 capture in the southeastern Guaviare State, it 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.