BOGOTA – Colombia’s FARC guerrillas released two civilian helicopter pilots captured weeks ago when they made an emergency landing in the southwestern province of Cauca.
Juan Carlos Alvarez and Alejandro de Jesus Ocampo were handed over on Sunday to a delegation from the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Francisco Isaias Cifuentes Human Rights Network.
“They are fine. It’s great news for their families. They will arrive in Popayan (Cauca’s capital) and from there they will head to Medellin, their city,” ICRC spokesperson Maria Cristina Rivera told Efe in Bogota.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, acknowledged last week that it was holding the pilots.
Alvarez and Ocampo were on board the Bell 206 L3 on July 10 when a mechanical failure forced them to execute an emergency landing on a soccer field in the town of Argelia.
Unidentified individuals set fire to the aircraft, owned by the Helifly firm, while the crew members were listed as missing prior to the FARC’s announcement.
“It makes us happy to have contributed to facilitating the reunion of these people with their loved ones,” the top ICRC official in Colombia, Jordi Raich, said after the rebels handed over the two men.
Cauca province has been the scene of recent protests by Nasa Indians, also known as the Paez, who have declared themselves in “permanent resistance” with the aim of expelling Colombian security forces and leftist guerrillas from their lands.
Intense fighting in Cauca between government forces and the FARC has driven more than 2,800 indigenous and mestizo people from their homes over the past several weeks.
Further clashes took in the wee hours of Sunday near the Nasa-governed town of Toribio. EFE