BOGOTA, Colombia – A 62-year-old lawmaker held captive eight years by leftist rebels walked to freedom in a western Colombia jungle on Sunday along with the young guerrilla commander who had been his jailer.
President Alvaro Uribe said the rebel and his girlfriend would be rewarded with asylum in France and an as-yet unspecified cash reward.
Oscar Tulio Lizcano is the first Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia hostage to gain freedom since the July 2 rescue of former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and three U.S. military contractors. His escape is yet another blow to Latin America’s last major rebel army, which is battling record desertions under withering pressure from Colombia’s U.S.-backed military.
The white-bearded Lizcano encountered a military road checkpoint three days after escaping with the leader of the unit that held him.
He looked haggard in a grimy black shirt and muddy training pants during Sunday’s news conference at a military base in the western city of Cali. He apologized for his somewhat incoherent speech, saying his captors had forbidden him to speak. He thanked “the person who had the courage, the valor to leave with me.”
“I was really sick,” he said, seated in a chair beside a standing Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos and police and military commanders. He said he had eaten little while on the run with his 28-year-old captor, known only by the alias “Isaza.”
Santos said the escape followed the Oct. 10 desertion of a second rebel, alias “Moroco,” from the camp where Lizcano was being held. He said that guerrilla disclosed Lizcano’s precise whereabouts to authorities, who already had a rough idea of the location and had been strangling the rebels’ supply routes.
Colombia’s military has in recent months put withering pressure on the guerrillas known as the FARC, killing or capturing top commanders and spurring record desertions and betrayals among rebels with lucrative reward offers.