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
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol
art'Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' followed hoax reports artist had been arrested and unveiled
News
peopleJust weeks after he created dress for Alamuddin-Clooney wedding
Life and Style
tech

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010
films

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Sport
football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
News
i100
Sport
Adel Taraabt in action for QPR against West Ham earlier this month
footballQPR boss says midfielder is 'not fit to play football'
News
First woman: Valentina Tereshkova
peopleNASA guinea pig Kate Greene thinks it might fly
Voices
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'
voices

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
News
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)
news

Parties threaten resort's image as a family destination

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

** Female PE Teacher Urgently Required In Liverpool **

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Secon...

** Cover Supervisors Urgently Required In Knowsley **

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Seconda...

Java developer - (Intershop Enfinity)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Java Developer...

School Office/ Finance Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Ilford: School Office/ Finance Assistant Long t...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album