Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 27 December 2014

Son back with family after 12 years in captivity

First, he rushed from a helicopter towards the family he'd not seen since being taken hostage over 12 years ago.

Then Sergeant Pablo Emilio Moncayo turned and unlocked the heavy chains around the neck and wrists of his father, Gustavo.

“I heard that dad wanted me to be the one to take these off,” he said, throwing them onto the runway. “So I'm going to do that right now.”

It was a tearful homecoming for the Colombian army sergeant (31) just 19 when he was seized by Colombian rebel group Farc in 1997. His mother and four sisters, who had helped orchestrate a high-profile campaign for his release, carried white daisies to the military airfield near the city of Florencia in the south of Colombia. The youngest Laura (6), was meeting him for the first time.

Sgt Moncayo looked fit and healthy when he strode purposefully to freedom on Tuesday afternoon after 4,483 days in captivity. His release marked the end of a long and tireless campaign by friends and family hoping to draw international attention to his plight and that of the roughly 20 other hostages who are still being held by the left-wing guerrilla organisation.

In 2007, Gustavo Moncayo, a university professor, walked the length and breath of Colombia, more than 1,000km, wearing chains around his neck and wrists to highlight the case.

Farc hostages are kept in notoriously harsh conditions in the jungle, bitten constantly by insects; they are given sparse rations and do not see doctors when they are ill.

Gustavo had hoped to persuade Colombia's right-wing President Alvaro Uribe to open dialogue with the rebels to end their long-running insurgency. He became known as the “peace walker” during the trek, and has worn the chains ever since.

“You don't know how wonderful it is to see civilisation once again,” said Sgt Moncayo.

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