Hostage escapes from Colombian guerrillas

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The Independent US

A German hostage has escaped from the mountain hideaway where rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) had held him for more than two months.

Thomas Kuenzel, one of three German technical workers abducted on 18 July by leftist guerrillas, was found wandering by Colombian soldiers on Saturday near a rebel stronghold 200 miles south-east of the capital, Bogota. He was taken to safety in an army truck and is now at the German embassy in Bogota.In the midst of a pitched battle, Mr Kuenzel told his rescuers that after escaping he hid for three days inside a hut in a local village. He said he had been confused by the landscape and was worried that he might be recaptured by the rebels.

He said he feared for the well-being of the other two hostages, his brother Ulrich Kuenzel, and Reiner Bruchmann. After forced marches at high altitude and two months of an inadequate diet, his brother's heart condition had worsened, Mr Kuenzel said.

Exhaustion showed on Mr Kuenzel's face during a brief press conference held by the army, in which he made no statements.

While inspecting agricultural projects near the town of Silvia, he and his colleagues, from the German government's co-operative agency GTZ, were snatched by five Farc gunmen and bundled away in a Toyota pick-up. The day after their disappearance, the governor of Cauca state, Floro Tunabala, organised a search party of 7,000 local Indians to hunt for them in the scrub, to no avail.

Guerrillas from the Farc, and the smaller ELN (National Liberation Army) often use ransom money to purchase weapons, and consequently Colombia's kidnap rate is the highest in the world, with 3,700 kidnappings recorded last year. In the past six months, 19 foreigners and 1,694 Colombians have been abducted.

Colombia's bitter three-way civil war has raged for 37 years, causing 40,000 deaths in the past decade alone.

European Union officials had warned Farc rebels that they would pull out of peace negotiations if the three Germans were not freed. A fourth German, Lothar Hintze, was kidnapped at his lakeside hotel in March by other suspected members of the Farc.