Colombia: hostage “rescue” —or escape?

Conservative Colombian congressman Oscar Tulio Lizcano is free Oct. 26 after more than eight years as a hostage of the FARC guerillas—their longest-held captive. But news accounts diverge widely on the details of his liberation. CBS says he was “freed” by the Colombian army. RTT News reports he was “rescued” by the armed forces. But Reuters writes that Lizcano “escaped through the jungles with one of his captors,” and they “traveled for three days before reaching an army post where the guerrilla surrendered.”

Bogotá’s El Tiempo reports that Colombia’s elite anti-kidnapping unit, the GAULA, had been intercepting the communications of the FARC’s Aurelio Rodríguez column in Chocó department for three months. They had determined that Lizcano was being held there, and that he was about to be transfered to a new location. The army’s Mobile Brigade 14 intercepted the unit transfering him near the village San José del Palmar, close to the border of Valle del Cauca department. In the operation coordinated with National Police elements, Lizcano was rescued and six guerillas captured and six killed. Among the captured was one code-named Isaías, said to be the operative responsible for Lizcano. All were evacuated by army helicopter to Cali.

Colombia’s Caracol Radio basically backs up this account, while naming the locale of the rescue operation as Palmar de Varela. The account says Colombian armed forces commander Mario Montoya personally went to the zone to oversee the operation. Three Black Hawk helicopters were brought in for the rescue, which tracked the guerilla unit through the jungle.

A sharply divergent version is provided by Peru’s RPP Noticias, citing information from Spain’s EFE news agency. This account says Lizcano fled his captors and walked three days and nights through the jungle before reaching the 14th Brigade. By this account, Lizcano escaped in the chaos of a clash which left eight guerillas dead and six captured. Contrary to the implication of most accounts, the clash presumably occurred three days before Lizcano arrived in the hands of the army.

Lizcano, a Conservative Party representative from Caldas department, was captured by the FARC in August 2000. He was one of three Colombia lawmakers still being held by the guerillas following the liberation of Ingrid Betancourt earlier this year. Some 25 members of the security forces are also being held.

See our last posts on Colombia and the FARC.

  1. Another conflicting version
    The New York Times account of Oct. 27 makes no reference to a gun-battle with the FARC or to any guerillas killed or captured, but says Lizcano and one of his captors fled three days through the jungle while the rescue operation was still being planned:

    Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos said Sunday that Colombian troops and police officers had begun an operation to free Mr. Lizcano over the weekend, based on information from a rebel who had defected in early October. But Mr. Lizcano and his captor were already on the run as the raid began to develop.

    “The army was pressuring us, we were starving — that made me make the decision,” Mr. Lizcano’s former captor, who was identified by the alias Isaza, said in a video that showed him meeting with President Álvaro Uribe after the escape.

    Mr. Uribe said Isaza would be paid a bounty and allowed to live in France with his companion, in a deal the government has promised to members of FARC who surrender with hostages.