Colombian Rebels Holding an American

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CARACAS, Venezuela -- Colombia's largest rebel group said Friday that it took a former American service member hostage last month and that it now planned to release him as a sign of good will during continuing peace talks with the government.

In a communiqué posted on its Web site, the group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which is known as the FARC, identified the American as Kevin Scott Sutay and said that he had served in the United States military from November 2009 until last March and had participated in the war in Afghanistan. It said that he was an expert in land mine removal.

On Saturday, the United States Embassy in Bogotá released a statement saying,"We condemn the kidnapping of this civilian and demand his prompt release." It added that Mr. Sutay had no current ties with American armed forces. The American ambassador, P. Michael McKinley, told local reporters that Mr. Sutay appeared to have been on a trip through Latin America.

But the FARC said that Mr. Sutay's presence in the region was proof of the participation in Colombia of "American soldiers and mercenaries in counterinsurgency operations" in the guise of private contractors. It did not offer evidence to back up that conclusion.

The FARC said that although it had the right to hold Mr. Sutay as a prisoner of war, it would release him "as a gesture within the framework" of the peace talks.

Mr. Sutay entered Colombia on June 8, according to the group's statement, after traveling through Mexico and Central America. It said he was taken hostage on June 20 in Guaviare Department, southeast of Bogotá, the capital.

The FARC has been at war with the government of Colombia for nearly 50 years. President Juan Manuel Santos announced the start of peace talks last year, and they have been taking place in Havana, Cuba.

The rebels for many years carried out a campaign of kidnappings for ransom, which, along with drug trafficking, was a major source of income. Last year the group said it would stop ransom kidnappings. It also freed what it said were the last police and military hostages it was holding. Advocacy groups in Colombia, however, say hundreds of kidnapped victims are still missing.

Susan Abad contributed reporting from Bogotá, Colombia.


This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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