Rebel-held Hostage Flown To Freedom In Colombia

By Dialogo
February 05, 2009

A former provincial lawmaker was helicoptered to freedom in Colombia on Thursday after spending more than six years as a captive of leftist guerrillas. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, handed Sigifredo Lopez over to a humanitarian mission led by the Red Cross and an opposition senator, Red Cross spokesman Yves Heller told reporters. Lopez then flew the western city of Cali. Television broadcasts showed him descending from the helicopter and embracing his wife, Patricia Nieto, and his sons Lucas and Sergio. Clad in a dark shirt and hat, and wearing a small wooden cross around his neck, Lopez lifted his right hand in triumph and wept. "I'm well, I'm well, thank you," he told a pack of reporters. Authorities said Lopez would give a news conference later at the seat of government for Valle del Cauca, where he was a regional lawmaker before being abducted in April 2002 along with 11 colleagues. Lopez, 45, was the only one from that group to survive a confusing attack in 2007. The FARC said at the time that he was being held in a different camp. "Not all the 12 have been able to return, only one will," said Consuelo Mesa, the wife of one of the dead lawmakers. "So there are mixed feelings," she told Caracol radio. Lopez, 45, is the sixth and last captive to be released this week by the FARC in what the rebels called a unilateral act aimed at starting talks on an exchange of hostages for imprisoned guerrillas. Three police officers and a soldier were freed on Sunday, and Alan Jara, former governor of Meta state, was released on Tuesday. Leftist intellectuals hope the goodwill gesture will prod the government to open a dialogue that might end the FARC's 45-year-old cocaine-funded insurgency. But President Alvaro Uribe has resisted. His U.S.-backed military has dealt the FARC a series of crippling blows in recent months Uribe has called the releases attention-grabbing antics meant to deceive Colombians. He and foreign governments have urged the FARC to renounce kidnapping and free all its hostages. Sen. Piedad Cordoba, who has led the recovery missions, said earlier Thursday that she sent a message to a member of the FARC's top leadership asking for the rebels to soften their demands to help facilitate a prisoner exchange. The FARC says it holds about 20 police and military officials.