Skip to main content

Colombian guerrillas release American hostage

By Patrick Oppmann and Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN
updated 8:31 PM EDT, Sun October 27, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Red Cross: Kevin Scott Sutay is in good physical condition to travel
  • Sutay was released and handed over to U.S. representatives in Bogota
  • FARC guerrillas kidnapped Sutay on June 20
  • His case drew attention from the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who pushed for his release

Havana, Cuba (CNN) -- Colombia's FARC guerrilla group has released an American hostage who spent more than four months in captivity, officials said Sunday.

The leftist rebels captured Kevin Scott Sutay on June 20, when he was backpacking through Colombia.

He was released to representatives from the Red Cross, Cuba and Norway in a rural area of southeastern Colombia, then handed over to U.S. officials Sunday morning at Bogota's airport, the governments of Cuba and Norway said in a statement.

Sutay's case drew attention from the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who pushed for his release during a trip last month to Cuba.

Sutay served in the U.S. Army from November 2009 to March 2013, including a year-long tour in Afghanistan, according to the U.S. Defense Department.

He is from Willow Spring, North Carolina, and has won a number of awards, including an Army Commendation Medal and a National Defense Service Medal. The Pentagon lists his rank as private.

"The United States is profoundly grateful to the Government of Colombia and commends its tireless efforts to secure his release," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement Sunday. "We offer special thanks to President Juan Manuel Santos for his assistance. We also appreciate the contributions of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the Governments of Norway and Cuba in securing Mr. Sutay's freedom."

The FARC, Latin America's oldest guerrilla force, is currently engaged in peace talks with the Colombian government.

In July, the group said it would release Sutay in a "gesture" to advance the talks.

Norway and Cuba are helping to mediate the talks, which are taking place in Havana.

The FARC, whose name in Spanish means the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, began fighting Colombia's government in the 1960s. There have been sporadic peace talks between the rebels and the government since the 1980s. The last attempt failed in 2002.

Kidnapping government forces and civilians has been a key strategy of the rebel group. Last year, the rebels said they would release government prisoners and stop kidnapping civilians for money.

The rebels did not address the fate of its civilian captives then, nor did it renounce kidnapping for political purposes.

Dramatic rescues, escapes and hostage handovers have revealed harsh conditions in jungle camps, including stories of prisoners chained to trees, grueling marches between hideouts, torrential rain and blistering sun.

After taking Sutay hostage, the FARC described him as a mercenary.

But despite Sutay's military background, Jackson said last month that the Army veteran had peaceful motives for visiting Colombia.

"The fact is, he is a tourist," Jackson said.

On Sunday, an International Committee of the Red Cross doctor said Sutay was in good physical condition to travel. Officials said he would reunite with his family soon.

Freed Colombian hostages carry pets tamed in the jungle

CNN's Patrick Oppmann reported from Havana. CNN's Catherine E. Shoichet reported from Atlanta. CNN's Elise Labott contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:27 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Hamas' tactics have changed -- now the group is using commando-like tactics, says CNN's Ben Wedeman.
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
CNN's Richard Quest speaks to Malaysia Airlines' Hugh Dunleavy about how the airline industry needs to react to MH17.
updated 3:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
From Maastricht to Melbourne, and baroque theaters to block-long warehouses, these stores make bookish travelers look stylish.
updated 11:40 AM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Some contend that larger weapons have come into Ukraine from Russia.
updated 9:44 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
A California homeowner's nightmare has become a cautionary tale for those who rent their homes to strangers.
updated 2:57 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
A nun, an AIDS researcher, an athlete and a family traveling on summer vacation. These were some of the victims aboard MH17.
updated 8:21 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Prince George isn't your average one year old. He started walking before he was one. Oh, and, he's going to be king -- of 16 countries.
updated 7:36 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Former President Bill Clinton acknowledges he got "very close" to helping achieve peace in the Middle East.
updated 2:21 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
In an ambitious plan to upgrade urban India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi says he will build 100 "smart cities" across the country.
updated 7:27 AM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Inspirational, creepy or just weird? CNN meets the 51-year-old man who dresses like a schoolgirl.
CNN joins the fight to end modern-day slavery by shining a spotlight on its horrors and highlighting success stories.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT