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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.

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