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Hostage escapes after 8 years in jungle

  • Story Highlights
  • Oscar Tulio Lizcano was kidnapped August 4, 2000 by Colombian leftist rebels
  • The ex-congressman fled about three days ago with help from one of his captors
  • The FARC holds an estimated 750 hostages in Colombia
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BOGOTA, Colombia (CNN) -- A former Colombian congressman who was held hostage in the jungle for more than eight years has escaped -- with the help of a former captor.

Oscar Tulio Lizcano, his hair disheveled, appeared too weak to stand for long when he met the news media Sunday, hours after stumbling onto a military patrol -- and freedom.

Lizcano suffered from hunger and disease in captivity and endured isolation in the company of leftist rebels who often would not let him talk, he and Colombian authorities said.

"Maybe my incoherence is for a lack of speaking," Lizcano told reporters. "I was unable to talk with the guerillas who guarded me."

Lizcano said he had little to read in the jungle except "The Odyssey" by Homer. He suffered from malaria and other illnesses and once ate nothing but hearts of palm for six or seven days, said Juan Manuel Santos, the Colombian defense minister.

"This is big news for the whole family," said Lizcano's sister, Amparo Lizcano. "We were waiting for the guerrillas to give our brother back alive before he died."

The former congressman fled about three days ago with the assistance of one of his captors, a member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, a leftist rebel force that has been fighting the government for more than 40 years in a war that also has involved right-wing paramilitaries and drug traffickers. Video Watch release of FARC hostage »

President Alvaro Uribe appeared on television Sunday with the ex-FARC rebel -- known by the alias "Isaza" -- and said the man will receive compensation and permission to resettle in France with his family. He said that's in keeping with a Colombian government policy that rewards rebels who desert and help hostages gain their freedom.

Police officers and soldiers pinpointed the location of the FARC unit holding Lizcano several months ago, Santos said.

They monitored the location for about five months and took steps to seal off possible escape routes, he said, as they planned a rescue operation using information gleaned help from a rebel who deserted October 2. Troops started that rescue operation Saturday -- only to discover that "Isaza" and Lizcano had decided on their own to escape.

The two men wandered through the jungle for three days and nights before encountering a Colombian army patrol Sunday, said Santos, the defense minister.

Lizcano was kidnapped on August 4, 2000 near the Colombian town of Riosucio. He and his former captor stumbled Sunday onto a patrol near the border of the states of Risaralda and Choco, in central Colombia, authorities said.

The FARC holds an estimated 750 hostages in Colombia. Its members have justified hostage taking as a legitimate military tactic.

The rebels have been battered this year by government raids that killed several top commanders, the death by apparent heart attack of their founder and a wave of desertions.

Government commandoes tricked the FARC in July and freed their most prized hostage, the former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, in an elaborate ruse that also liberated three U.S. defense contractors and 11 other hostages.

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On Sunday, Lizcano offered words of encouragement to those hundreds who remain trapped in the jungle, captives of the FARC.

"Hold on. Hold on," he said. "One day you will enjoy your freedom, too."

-- CNN's Karl Penhaul contributed to this report

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