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Colombian rebels free soldier after 12 years

Sergeant Pablo Emilio Moncayo, before his release. Sergeant Pablo Emilio Moncayo, before his release.
Associated Press / March 31, 2010

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FLORENCIA, Colombia — A Colombian soldier held hostage for more than 12 years was freed by rebels yesterday and flown to Florencia, ending an ordeal that prompted his father to hike halfway across the country wearing a symbolic chain around his neck to press for his son’s release.

Sergeant Pablo Emilio Moncayo was one of the longest-held hostages of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or the FARC. He was 19 when taken captive during an attack on a mountain outpost on Dec. 21, 1997.

Moncayo returned to government territory on a Brazilian helicopter that flew to an unannounced spot in southern Colombia, where the rebels turned him over to a humanitarian team led by Colombian Senator Piedad Cordoba.

The soldier smiled warmly as he stepped out of the helicopter in military fatigues and extended a hand urging his family to slow down as they excitedly rushed toward him. He embraced his father, mother, and sisters.

Moncayo was generally in good health, said Adolfo Beteta, spokesman for the International Red Cross.

His father, Gustavo Moncayo, walked more than 620 miles across Colombia in 2007 to rally support for his son’s release. He wore a chain around his neck and wrists like those used at times by the rebels to bind their prisoners.