Colombian hostages reveal misery of jungle camps

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The Independent US

Letters sent by Colombian hostages from jungle camps have revealed how they are chained up, weak from illness and desperate for leaders such as Fidel Castro to help secure a deal with Marxist rebels to free them.

The notes from the hostages were brought by the former congresswoman Consuelo Gonzalez who was released last week after nearly six years in rebel captivity in a deal brokered by Venezuela's left-wing President Hugo Chavez.

The release of Ms Gonzalez and Clara Rojas has raised hopes for an accord to free other hostages, including the French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt and three Americans.

But letters from those left behind such as Police Colonel Luis Mendieta, captured nearly a decade ago, show their precarious health fighting off sickness after long jungle marches and frustration following years in insect-infested camps.

"It is not the physical pain that wounds us, nor the chains on our necks that torment us or the constant sickness... it's the mental agony of the irrationality of all this," says one letter signed by Col Mendieta and others read on local radio. "It seems that we are worthless, that we do not exist."

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the Farc, is still holding several hundred hostages for ransom or political leverage. Authorities said the rebels kidnapped six Colombian tourists on Sunday from a remote Pacific beach.

Col Mendieta wrote that he has been chained to a pole and spends his days playing cards and learning English and Russian in rudimentary classes from another hostage. Sickness has forced him to be carried several times in a hammock. Injections have eased ailments in his legs and feet, but at times he cannot walk.

"I had to drag myself to the bathroom for my necessities through the mud with just the strength of my arms because I could not get up," he wrote in a letter read by his daughter.

Blurry photographs show Col Mendieta with a former local governor Alan Jara and ex-congressman Luis Eduardo Gechem and other police hostages.

In one letter read by Mr Gechem's wife he appealed for help from Cuba, which has been host to attempts to broker a peace deal with Colombia's second largest rebel group the ELN.

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