Bloomberg – A former member of the U.S. armed forces kidnapped in Colombia ignored warnings from police and hotel staff not to attempt a trek through jungle controlled by Marxist rebels.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, said in a statement on its website last night that it had captured a U.S. soldier named Kevin Scott Sutay on June 20 in Guaviare province, a remote jungle and cattle-ranching area in southern Colombia. The U.S. Embassy in Bogota said in an e-mailed statement it’s working closely with Colombian authorities on the case. Sutay is a U.S. citizen with no current connection to the U.S. military, the embassy said.
A week before before being abducted, Sutay said in an interview he planned to walk through more than 300 miles (483 kilometers) of rain forest to the town of Inirida, on the border with Venezuela. Staff at Hotel Las Palmas in the provincial capital of San Jose del Guaviare, where Sutay was staying before he was abducted, were so concerned for their guest’s safety that they called the police, hotel administrator Adriana Sanchez said.
“I explained to him that it was dangerous, that it was an area without much military presence,” Sanchez said in a telephone interview. “He kept insisting. So we called police and advised them that he wanted to make this trip, and that they should take action.”
National Police officers came to the hotel and tried “many times” to dissuade Sutay from making the trip, Sanchez said.
Sutay, a lanky man in his 20s with a military-style crew cut, said he’d been discharged recently from the Army, where he served in a combat unit in Afghanistan. Hotel workers advised him not to talk about his experiences in Afghanistan, Sanchez added.
“We told him it was dangerous to talk about these things in a place where anyone could be listening,” she said.
Sutay is the first U.S. citizen to be held hostage by the FARC since Keith Stansell, Thomas Howes and Marc Gonsalves, employees of Northrop Grumman Corp., were rescued by the Colombian army in 2008 in Guaviare province. They had been in captivity more than five years.
Sutay said he was from Raleigh, North Carolina, and had mainly traveled by land through Mexico and Central America to reach Colombia. Sutay said in an interview on June 14 that he planned to dodge FARC patrols by keeping off trails and pioneering across the jungle using survival skills he learned in the army.
Two days before leaving San Jose del Guaviare, he bought a machete for his trip and said he planned to use a compass to navigate through the jungle.
The FARC, in last night’s statement, said it will release Sutay to the International Committee of the Red Cross. The Marxist rebel group, which has been fighting since 1964, is currently in peace talks with government negotiators in Cuba.
“Despite our right to hold the soldier Kevin Scott as a prisoner of war, we have taken the decision to free him as a gesture that is framed by the atmosphere of the talks in Havana with the Colombian government in search of an agreement to end the social and armed conflict in our country,” FARC said in its statement.