FLORENCIA, Colombia – Colombian army Sgt. Pablo Emilio Moncayo emerged from more than a dozen years in captivity Tuesday as leftist FARC rebels released him to a humanitarian delegation headed by opposition Sen. Piedad Cordoba.
The Brazilian air force helicopter carrying the freed captive arrived at the airport in the southern city of Florencia at 5:40 p.m. after rain-induced delays on both the outbound and return flights.
Moncayo, only 19 when he was captured by the rebels, walked down the steps from the chopper and collapsed into the arms of his parents, Gustavo Moncayo and Maria Estela Cabrera, before picking up the 5-year-old sister who was born during his captivity.
After hugging his other two sisters, Pablo again embraced his father, a teacher who became famous walking across Colombia to dramatize the plight of his son.
The freed prisoner raised his father’s arms, displaying the chains the elder Moncayo has warn for the past few years in solidarity with Pablo and other rebel captives.
Pablo Moncayo, now 32, appeared to be in good health as he walked across the runway unaided, clad in a camouflage uniform and an army cap.
The soldier’s reunion with his family was delayed by rain that forced the Brazilian chopper to sit on the ground in the jungle clearing where the handover took place.
A spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross had explained the delay to the reporters, family members and well-wishers at the airport and later informed them that the helicopter was en route.
“The ICRC expresses its great satisfaction that it was possible to carry out both humanitarian missions with success, thanks to the joint efforts of the government and public forces of Colombia, the government of Brazil, of the members of the Colombians for Peace Commission, of the (Catholic) Church, as well as those of the FARC-EP,” Adolfo Beteta said, reading an official statement.
Moncayo’s liberation came two days after the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – Popular Army, or FARC-EP, released army Pvt. Josue Daniel Calvo in a similar operation at another location.
In the first pictures from the site of Tuesday’s release, broadcast by the Caracas-based Telesur network, Moncayo was seen walking through the jungle as he spoke by satellite telephone with his father.
Besides Cordoba, the delegation receiving Moncayo included two ICRC officials and Catholic Bishop Leonardo Gomez.
President Alvaro Uribe hailed Moncayo’s release and said that all Colombians greet him “with open arms.”
In a statement issued from the northeastern city of Cucuta, Uribe said he was happy for Moncayo’s family, but denounced the FARC “kidnappers.”
The president thanked the ICRC, Brazil and the Catholic Church for their role in the release, while neither he nor Peace Commissioner Frank Pearl mentioned Sen. Cordoba.
During the handover of Moncayo, the FARC gave Cordoba the location of the grave of police Maj. Julian Guevara, who died in rebel hands more than three years ago, the leader of Asfamipaz, a group representing families of police and soldiers held capti
ve, told Efe in Florencia.
Marleny Orjuela added, however, that she didn’t yet know how Guevara’s remains would be retrieved.
The FARC had originally promised to turn over the police officer’s body in conjunction with the release of Moncayo and Calvo.
But the rebels announced last week that they would not be able to deliver Guevara’s remains because of the presence of government troops near the grave site.
Guevara, captured by the FARC in a November 1998 assault on the southern city of Mitu, died in captivity in 2006 at the age of 41.
Cordoba, a leftist excoriated by some in Colombia for her access to the rebels and her harsh criticism of Uribe, has participated in the FARC’s unilateral release of more than a dozen captives over the past few years.
But the FARC says the release of Sgt. Moncayo, captured in December 1997 in a rebel attack on an army outpost, will be its last unilateral gesture.
The score of soldiers and police who remain in rebel hands after Tuesday will only be freed as a part of a “humanitarian exchange” for hundreds of jailed guerrillas, the FARC says. EFE