£2m ransom frees Scot from Colombia kidnap

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The Independent US

A Scottish oil worker kidnapped by Colombian guerrillas has been released from the jungle after nearly two years in captivity.

Alistair Taylor, 47, was abducted at gunpoint in the oil-rich province of Casanare, in August 1999, while he was working for Weatherford, a Texas-based oil firm.

He is reportedly in good spirits after his release late on Thursday, which followed a ransom payment of up to £2m, the amount demanded by his captors.

"There were times when I doubted I would see this moment and I can hardly believe it has arrived," he said, as he prepared to fly home to Aberdeen. "Now I just want to get back to Scotland and see my wife and young son, whom I've missed growing up, and the rest of my family as soon as I can."

He described how he had been moved from his last jungle hideout by the guerrillas, watched by snipers at outposts along the route. He had been dressed in a white poncho and warned that he would be shot if he attemptedto run away. At that stage, he was unaware that he was about to be handed over.

Mr Taylor's freedom was bartered by Corporate Risk International, a US kidnap-and-ransom specialist led by former FBI, CIA and US Secret Service agents. He was spirited out of the jungle by representatives of his company and flown to Bogota where he met embassy officials and was reunited with his brother, Charlie.

A spokeswoman for the Foreign Office said: "He was released in the early hours of this morning, our time, by his kidnappers, who handed him over to a representative of the company he works for, at a location in the Arauca department in the east of Colombia. He is undergoing medical checks to ensure he is fit to travel and we expect him to return to the UK within the next few days."

Mr Taylor's captors had identified themselves as the Domingo Lain Front of the National Liberation Army (ELN).

The Foreign Office confirmed that a payment had been made to secure his release: "We told Weatherford that it is not our policy to encourage the payment of ransoms, but they went against that advice."

More than 3,700 kidnappings were reported in Colombia last year, an average of 10 a day. Most were carried out by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a Marxist rebel group, and the smaller ELN.

Mr Taylor had worked in Colombia since 1995. He is married to Martha Valencia, a Colombian, with whom he has a four-year-old son, Alecito, both of whom are waiting for him in Inverurie, Aberdeenshire. His family campaigned tirelessly for his release although he had been unable to contact them during the kidnap.

Karl Penhaul, a freelance journalist, managed to find him after he had been isolated for months. In an interview screened by the BBC in April, Mr Taylor said: "It was one of the most frightening experiences that any person could ever be put through. These people were in civilian clothes. I did not know who they were, what they were doing. I thought I was going to be killed."

Jeremy Thorp, the UK ambassador in Bogota, said that Mr Taylor was tired and had lost weight, but added that he was "in great spirits".

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