Colombian Rebels Release U.S. Vet
By George E. Curry
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – FARC, the Colombian guerrillas, freed former U.S. veteran Kevin Scott Sutay Sunday after more than four months of captivity.
According to a joint statement by Cuba and Norway, Sutay, 27, was handed over to U.S. officials at the airport in the capital city of Bogota at 11:30 a.m. He was examined and reported to be in good health. It was unclear when he would leave for the U.S.
Sutay, who was captured June 20 while backpacking through the thick rainforest of Colombia in a region controlled by FARC, was released to representatives of the Red Cross, Cuba, and Norway. FARC-EP – the Spanish acronym for Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-the People’s Army – has been at war with the Colombia government for 50 years.
FARC representatives had made at least two offers to free Sutay, the latest on Sept. 27 in Havana, where they were engaged in ongoing peace talks with representatives of the Colombian government. Rebel leaders accepted an invitation to meet with Jesse Jackson in Cuba and agreed to turn Sutay over to him without any conditions.
Sutay fought in Afghanistan for a year. The Los Angeles Times reported that Sutay, who grew up in Willow Spring, N.C., but was a resident of New York at the time of his capture, served as an explosives specialist with the U.S. Navy. Other news accounts have described him as an Army veteran. He was discharged from the military two years ago.
FARC said Sutay told them that he had been hiking through Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rico, Nicaragua, Panama and Colombia before being captured. He had been warned against traveling through a dangerous war zone, but he ignored those warnings. Sutay was captured by FARC just 12 days after entering the country.
In a statement announcing they were willing to release Sutay as a humanitarian gesture, the rebels said, “The FARC-EP has taken the decision to ask Reverend Jesse Jackson to make available his experience and integrity to expedite Kevin Scott’s release.”
However, Colombia President Juan Manuel took to Twitter to say, “Only the Red Cross will be authorized to arrange for the handover of the North American kidnapped by the FARC. We will not allow a media spectacle.”
Jackson stepped aside at that point, saying his goal was to win the freedom of Sutay on whatever terms established by President Santos.
In a statement issued Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry said: “We welcome the release today of Kevin Scott Sutay from captivity at the hands of the FARC.
“The United States is profoundly grateful to the Government of Colombia and commends its tireless efforts to secure his release. 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. And we thank the Reverend Jesse Jackson for his efforts in consistently advocating for Mr. Sutay’s release.”
Jackson said in a statement, “I join in celebrating with the State Department the release of Kevin Scott Sutay. A month ago, we met with FARC leadership in Cuba and they agreed to release Kevin to me with no conditions. The release did not occur due to logistic issues between the Colombian government and the FARC. I never gave up on advocating for Kevin’s freedom and it is a joy to know that he is finally free and will be united with his family very soon.
“I thank the FARC leadership for keeping to their commitment to free Kevin. I also thank President Juan Manuel Santos whom I met with in Bogota, Colombia regarding Kevin. His role was vital in the joy we celebrate today.”
Jackson thanked all parties involved in the successful release and said, “I hope and pray that all parties to the Colombian conflict will agree to move from the battle field and embrace a political solution to this long and devastating conflict.”