Captured Colombian soldier Pablo Moncayo freed after 12 years

A Colombian soldier held hostage for more than 12 years was freed by rebels and reunited with his family, ending an ordeal that prompted his father to hike halfway across the country to press for his son's release.

Sgt Pablo Moncayo, 31, was one of the longest-held hostages of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or the Farc. He was 19 when taken captive during an attack on a mountain outpost on December 21 1997.



He was flown to the city of Florencia yesterday on a Brazilian military helicopter that picked him up at an unannounced spot in southern Colombia where the rebels turned him over to a humanitarian team that included International Red Cross officials and a Colombian senator.



The soldier smiled warmly as he stepped down from the helicopter in camouflage fatigues and extended a hand urging his family to slow down as they excitedly rushed toward him, then embraced. His mother and father carried white daisies, and his four sisters beamed as they hugged and kissed him.



And Sgt Moncayo met his six-year-old sister, Laura, for the first time.



His father, high school teacher Gustavo Moncayo, walked more than 620 miles across Colombia in 2007 to rally support for his son's release. During the walk, he wore chains around his neck and wrists like those used at times by the rebels to bind their prisoners.



He had continued wearing chains around his wrists since then in solidarity with his son.



"I heard my father, that he wanted me to take off the chains. So I'm going to do that right now," the soldier said as he pulled the chains over his father's hands.



Sgt Moncayo appeared healthy and he thanked the presidents of Ecuador, Venezuela and Brazil, saying they helped secure his freedom.



The family had been anxiously awaiting Sgt Moncayo's release since the Farc first announced last April that it planned to set him free. The event had been delayed while the rebels and government accused each other of holding up the handover.



The Super Cougar helicopter loaned by Brazil carried a team including Senator Piedad Cordoba, Red Cross officials and a priest. Both the flight's departure and return were delayed by rain.



Sgt Moncayo's return came after guerrillas freed another soldier, 23-year-old Private Josue Calvo, on Sunday, in their first release of a captive in more than a year.



Mr Cordoba, an opposition senator who has been a go-between in contacting the Farc, has said the guerrillas insist that after Sgt Moncayo they will end their unilateral releases and press the government to negotiate a swap of jailed rebels for remaining captives.



President Alvaro Uribe has called the Farc's unilateral releases publicity stunts and has opposed a prisoner swap unless any guerrillas who are freed agree to abandon the rebels.



But he welcomed Sgt Moncayo's release and thanked Brazil, the Red Cross and the Roman Catholic Church for their co-operation.



"Colombia receives those who return from captivity with open arms and rejects the kidnappers with the greatest strength," Mr Uribe said.



Mr Uribe, who leaves office in August after two consecutive four-year terms, is hugely popular in Colombia for aggressively fighting the Farc and dealing it crushing blows, including the 2008 rescue of former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, three US military contractors and 11 other captives.



The rebels still hold at least 20 police officers and soldiers, including Libio Martinez, a 33-year-old sergeant who was captured during the same battle as Sgt Moncayo - a raid on a communication post at an elevation of 12,470 feet on Patascoy mountain. At least 20 soldiers were captured during the attack but most were freed in 2001.



The left-wing Farc, the Western Hemisphere's last remaining major rebel army, has fought for nearly half a century to topple a succession of governments.

Suggested Topics
News
Alan Bennett has criticised the “repellent” reality shows which dominate our screens
tvBut he does like Stewart Lee
Life and Style
The Google Doodle celebrating the start of the first day of autumn, 2014.
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
i100
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
News
Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, left, with her daughter, Bristol
newsShe's 'proud' of eldest daughter, who 'punched host in the face'
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Life and Style
food + drink
News
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
News
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
news
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits