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Two kidnapped U.S. bird watchers freed in Colombia

Louise Agustine
A Red Cross worker helps Louise Augustine, 63, after she was released by leftist rebels  
April 25, 1998
Web posted at: 10:00 p.m. EDT (0200 GMT)

LOS ALPES, Colombia (CNN) -- Leftist rebels in Colombia have freed two American hostages who spent more than a month in captivity after being snatched during a bird-watching expedition.

Peter Shen of New York City and Todd Mark of Houston were turned over to journalists Saturday by rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in Los Alpes, a town in the Andes mountains about 60 miles (96 kilometers) south of Bogota.

The duo appeared to be in good condition and jovial spirits and said they had been treated well. Mark joked that he has spent most of his time in captivity talking to his rebel abductors about birds.

"I think I bored them to death," he said.

Four Americans, an Italian and about two dozen Colombians were seized at a roadblock on March 23.

One American, Louise Augustine of Chillicothe, Illinois, was released Friday. She had been injured in a fall during her captivity but said that she had otherwise been treated well.

Another American, Thomas Fiore, of New York, was found in the jungle April 2. He says he escaped, though rebels insist they let him go.

Peter Shen and Todd Mark
American hostages -- Peter Shen, left, and Todd Mark -- are escorted by leftist guerrillas before being released near Los Alpes  

Shen and Mark said that when Fiore disappeared, the other captives thought he had been shot because rebels repeatedly warned them that they would be shot if they tried to escape.

"We were afraid for his life. We thought he may have been killed," Shen said.

Shen said he and the other Americans were handcuffed at night.

"Being held hostage is a crime against humanity. It's a violation of human rights," he said. "And after this, you can fully understand the importance of that right."

FARC rebels often set up roadblocks and kidnap people for ransom, especially nationals of other countries. There had been no word about any ransom paid for the release of the Americans. The U.S. embassy said it did not know of any negotiations.

Shen said rebels stripped his party of their bird-watching equipment after their capture. Comandante Romana, the local rebel commander, had warned that the four Americans would be killed if it was determined they were U.S. intelligence agents.

FARC, Colombia's oldest and largest rebel group, accuses the United States of backing the Colombian government in its effort to crush the rebels.

The four Americans were searching for the rare Cundinamarca Anpitter, a ground-hugging bird that is found only in the region south of Bogota. Mark and Shen said they believe they heard the call of the rare species during their captivity.

Asked if he would risk returning to Colombia to confirm their finding, Shen said, "What we would like to do is come back and have a do-not-hassle-us pass."

Reuters contributed to this report.


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