Kidnapped Briton escapes from captors in Colombian jungle

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The Independent US

A British teenager kidnapped while trekking in the Colombian jungle has been recounting his dramatic escape from his captors.

Matthew Scott, 19, from Clapham, south London, fled into the jungle hours after he was kidnapped with seven other backpackers 12 days ago.

Mr Scott, a gap year student, wandered lost in the densely vegetated area in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in northern Colombia.

His ordeal came to an end on Tuesday morning when he wandered into a jungle village of Arahuaco Indians, who looked after him until an army patrol passed.

Looking drained as he recovered in the coastal town of Santa Marta, Mr Scott said: he made his bid for freedom by sliding down a precipice and was fed by Indians before an army patrol found him.

Speaking from a hospital bed at a military base in Santa Marta on the Caribbean coast, Mr Scott told reporters: "I have eaten hardly anything for the last 12 days.

"We were walking in a line with the guerrillas. It was raining in the mountains, the visibility wasn't good, and I quickly slipped down the mountain.

"The tribe that found me gave me soup and beans with a little salt and three oranges. Those are the only things I've eaten in the last 12 days."

He said the remaining seven hostages - who are still missing - were in dire straits.

"The guy from Israel has asthma, and the other people are very demoralised. They have to walk, a lot, every day, in the rain. The guerrillas weren't giving us very much food."

He added that he did not know which armed group his captors belonged to.

His parents James and Katherine Scott said last night that they were very pleased that their son had been found. "We've just spoken to him and he is tired, as can be expected," Mr Scott said.

"When we asked him if there was anything he wanted he said a baked potato. I don't know why, but that's what he said he would like. We're just very happy and looking forward to seeing him."

Mr Scott was among a group of eight backpackers kidnapped during a trek to the ancient ruins of La Cuidad Perdida, the Lost City.

A second Briton, Mark Henderson, a television producer aged 31 from Harrogate, North Yorkshire, is still missing.

The travellers were seized by camouflaged guerrillas during a dawn raid on 12 September.

It is believed that the hostages are being forced into long, daily hikes through steep mountains and thick undergrowth to evade the army, which is searching for the missing tourists in the area.

One Indian from the village where Mr Scott was found told local television: "He was dizzy and vomiting. Since he barely spoke Spanish, he didn't tell me what was wrong with him."

General Carlos Alberto Ospina, the commander of Colombia's army, described how Mr Scott was suffering from exhaustion. He said: "This gives us hope to continue with the operation and free them."

Alfonso Morales, a spokesman for the British embassy, added: "We are very pleased that he is free."

Mr Scott's escape prompted renewed efforts to find the seven missing travellers. British diplomats arrived in the area yesterday to witness hundreds of troops being sent out to scour the dense mountainous jungle that covers the area, supported by a fleet of Black Hawk helicopters.

As well as the two Britons, the kidnappers seized a German, a Spaniard and four Israelis, all of whom were camping in wooden huts as part of the trek through the national park.

According to reports from seven backpackers who were left behind, the rebels were aged between 18 and 20 and lined up all foreigners outside in the rain before selecting the fittest and marching them into the jungle.

The main suspects are rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc), a group that recently denied responsibility for the kidnappings.

The nation's biggest paramilitary organisation, the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia, has also denied involvement.

The groups have been in dispute over the control of coca and poppy cultivation in the Sierra Nevada area and are believed to be responsible for an estimated 3,000 kidnappings every year in Colombia.

There have been 1,000 kidnappings so far this year in Colombia. The incident on 12 September was the country's biggest foreign kidnapping in two decades.

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