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Colombian rebel group frees ex-U.S. Army private

Published October 27, 2013 9:38 pm

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This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Bogota, Colombia • Colombia's main leftist rebel group on Sunday released a former U.S. 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 along with the International Committee of the Red Cross in the same southeastern region where he had disappeared four months earlier.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry immediately thanked Colombia's government in a statement for its "tireless efforts" in securing the Afghanistan war veteran's release. Kerry also thanked the Rev. Jesse Jackson for advocating it.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or 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 late-morning arrival in Bogota, the capital.

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 website what it billed as a recounting of Sutay's life in his own words that it prefaced by describing him not as the U.S. 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 on prohibiting a ceremonial release of Sutay included objecting to the FARC-endorsed intercession of Jackson, who met with rebel leaders in Cuba in late September and said then that he would go to Colombia to lobby on behalf of Sutay's release.

Sutay was delivered to U.S. government representatives at Bogota's airport, according to a statement issued by the Cuban and Norwegian embassies.

The Red Cross said one of its doctors examined Sutay and he was good to travel and be reunited with his family. It was not immediately clear if he had flown on to the United States.

Sutay was the only foreigner known to be currently held by Colombian rebels.

Attempts by The Associated Press to locate relatives of Sutay after his capture were unsuccessful. His service record lists his hometown as Willow Spring, North Carolina.

Sutay was in Colombia as a tourist, the U.S. Embassy has said.

When the FARC announced his June 20 capture in the southeastern state of Guaviare, it said it suspected him of being an agent of the U.S. government, whose close military assistance in training, logistics, surveillance and intelligence since 2000 has helped Colombia's government badly weaken the rebels.

Local officials in Guaviare and international reporters who encountered Sutay there in mid-June said he appeared to be nothing but a tourist who spoke little Spanish and was determined to travel by land through thick jungle to Puerto Inirida on Colombia's eastern border with Venezuela.

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Associated Press writer Frank Bajak in Caracas, Venezuela, contributed to this report.