Hostage describes narrow escape from Colombia’s FARC


BOGOTA, Colombia — Police Sgt. Luis Alberto Erazo was
packing his tarp and towel at about 6 a.m. on Saturday — preparing for
another long march through the jungle — when he felt gunshots graze his
neck and face. Without thinking, he sprinted into the brush as his
assassin gave chase.

Laying in a hospital bed in
Bogota on Monday, Erazo, 48, said that split-second decision allowed him
to escape the FARC guerrillas who had held him hostage for almost 12
years. It was only when he was back in the capital that he was told his
four companions — all of whom had been in rebel hands for more than a
decade — didn’t survive. The FARC executed them as troops moved in, the
government said.

“I thought they were also going to run toward the jungle,” Erazo said of his fellow hostages.

years, his captors had drilled home the idea that if they heard
gunshots they should stay close to camp or risk punishment. “My
companions ran toward them (the guerrillas) and they were killed in cold
blood,” Erazo said. “I forgot the rules and ran the other direction.”

his first interviews since escaping, Erazo looked thin as he laid in a
hospital bed wearing blue pajamas. His cheek and neck were bandaged and
his face was covered in welts.

The death of the
four hostages was a grim reminder that the embattled Revolutionary Armed
Forces of Colombia, or FARC, still have the means to deliver powerful
psychological blows to this Andean nation. The group is thought to have
about 16 military and police officers still in captivity, many of whom,
like Erazo, have been hostages for more than a decade.

incident sparked global outrage, as everyone from the Pope to Amnesty
International condemned the murders. It was one of the first mass
killings of captives since 2007, when 11 politicians from Valle de
Cauca, who had been in captivity for five years, were executed.

escape came as the government is poised to reveal a new military
strategy to step up pressure on the group, and less than a month after
special forces killed FARC top commander Alfonso Cano.

Erazo said news of Cano’s Nov. 4 death reached his camp but didn’t seem to phase the rebels.

guerrillas said that Alfonso Cano had died and that his replacement had
been named; that one person went to his grave and another will lead the
FARC,” he said. Their attitude is, “This is war. Today I die, tomorrow
you die,” he said.

Rodrigo Londono, also known as
“Timoleon Jimenez” or “Timochenko,” was named the new leader of the
organization the day after Cano’s death.

is thought to operate along the border with Venezuela, and military
intelligence believes he often crosses into the neighboring country.

a meeting between Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Colombian leader
Juan Manuel Santos on Monday, Chavez said his nation’s forces would
defend the border region.

“We will do everything
within our reach to keep Venezuelan territory from being used to
conspire against, strike at or attack Colombia,” he said, according to a
statement issued by Colombia’s presidency. In the past, Colombia has
accused Venezuela of turning a blind eye to FARC operations there.

When the news of the executions first broke Saturday, there was speculation that it had been a botched rescue attempt.

Monday, Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon said the encounter had not
been planned. Troops had been in the southern province of Caqueta for
more than 45 days hunting down the FARC column, which they suspected of
holding hostages. But the soldiers were about to leave the area when
they spotted a trail and followed it to encampment, he said.

likely that that’s when they (the guerrillas) made the decision to
murder them and run,” he said in a statement. One female guerrilla
member was captured in the raid.

The government
said it found the bodies of police officers Edgar Yesid Duarte, Elkin
Hernandez and Alvaro Moreno, along with that of Army Sgt. Jose Libio
Martinez. Three had been shot in the head and one shot in the back. The
chains, with which they were often bound, were found close to the
bodies, the government said.

Erazo said the
government should keep trying to negotiate with the FARC even as the
military has an “obligation” to rescue hostages.

Pressed on whether he thought rescue attempts might put hostages in danger, Erazo said the government has little choice.

had been kidnapped for 12 years and Libio Jose Martinez had been there
for 14 years, and they still killed him,” he said. “What do you want us
to think?”

In a FARC communique published on
Anncol, a website that often runs guerrilla press releases, the group
said its armed struggle had “profound social, economic and political
causes” but it’s open to negotiations.

“A peace
deal in Colombia should be preceded by a prisoner exchange,” the FARC’s
ruling secretariat wrote, saying there were some 800 guerillas in
Colombian jails. “Without a doubt, that would help pave the way for an
end to the war and the conflict, which has been drawn out for six
decades due to the government’s intransigence.”

in 1964 with Marxist underpinnings, the FARC has increasingly resorted
to drug trafficking, kidnapping and extortion to finance its survival.
The rebel group is thought to have about 9,000 members. Colombia and the
United States consider it a terrorist organization.

Erazo recalled Saturday morning, he said the FARC guerrillas spotted
the military patrol closing in from about 110 to 220 yards away. That’s
when the rebels came back to camp to kill the hostages. He said his
would-be executioner shot him from about 30 feet away from behind a palm

That’s when he ran.

got ahead of him in the brush and Boom! Boom! Boom! I could hear the
shots behind me,” Erazo said. He finally lost his pursuer and hid in a
hollowed-out log. After about five hours he said the jungle fell silent
and he began walking until he spotted soldiers clearing a landing pad
for a helicopter.

Erazo said his fellow hostages
dreamed of meeting their grown children and starting family businesses.
He said it was miracle that he had lived.

“I know that God exists and I know that evil exists,” Erazo said. “And the FARC are evil.”


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