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Colombian guerrillas convicted of kidnapping American

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Three members of a Colombian paramilitary organization are convicted
  • They are found guilty of taking an American hostage in 2008
  • The men held the American in a jungle camp for 10 months
  • The FARC, a leftist rebel army, funds its operations by narcotics sales and kidnappings

New York (CNN) -- Three members of a Colombian paramilitary organization were convicted Tuesday in federal court in New York for their role in the kidnapping of an American who was held hostage in a jungle camp for nearly a year.

In the 2008 plot, Edilberto Berrio Ortiz, Alejandro Palacios Rengifo and Anderson Chamapuro guarded the man while a ransom for his release was demanded from his family, according to U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

The American -- whose name authorities have withheld -- was released in February 2009 after his family paid the ransom.

He was detained for some 10 months, during which time the victim's relatives were told "they would never see him alive again if the ransom was not paid," said a statement from the U.S. attorney.

The prosecutor said the men were members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, commonly known as FARC, a leftist rebel army that claims to be a bulwark against Colombia's elite ruling class, and has traditionally funded operations by way of narcotics sales and kidnappings.

It was formed in 1964 and maintains an estimated 10,000 armed guerrillas seeking to overthrow the Colombian government. The United States has designated the group as a foreign terrorist organization.

Sentencing for the three men is scheduled for October 24. Although the charges carry a maximum life sentence, the United States "has given assurances to the government of Colombia that the defendants will not receive life sentences," according to the prosecutor's statement.

It is not clear if the men will be handed over to the Colombian government following their U.S. sentence.

Earlier this month three Chinese workers and their translator were kidnapped by guerrillas in southern Colombia.

The kidnapping, which also was blamed on the FARC, happened on a rural highway, according to provincial secretary Edilberto Ramon Endo.

The four victims work for United Kingdom-based Emerald Energy, a subsidiary of Sinochem, a Chinese conglomerate, which deals primarily with petrochemicals, according to the company's website

The group was also behind the March kidnapping of 23 oil workers in eastern Colombia, government officials said.

One of those victims remains in captivity.