BOGOTA, Colombia — Colombia's main leftist rebel group on Sunday released a former U.S. army private who the guerrillas seized in June after he refused to heed local officials' warnings and wandered into rebel-held territory.
Kevin Scott Sutay, who is in his late 20s, was quietly turned over to Norwegian and Colombian officials along with the International Committee of the Red Cross in the same southeastern region where he had disappeared four months earlier.
In a statement, Secretary of State John Kerry almost immediately thanked Colombia's government for its "tireless efforts" in securing the Afghanistan war veteran's release. Kerry also thanked the Rev. Jesse Jackson for advocating it.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, renounced kidnapping as a condition for the launching of peace talks that began 11 months ago to end a half-century internal conflict.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos had resisted efforts by the FARC to make what he deemed a "media show" of Sutay's release and no images were made public of the early morning jungle handover.
Santos' firmness on prohibiting a ceremonial release of Sutay included objecting to the FARC-endorsed intercession of Jackson, who met with rebel leaders in Cuba in late September and said then that he would go to Colombia to lobby for on behalf of Sutay's release.
Sutay was delivered at 11:30 a.m. local time to U.S. government representatives in Bogota, according to a statement issued by the Cuban and Norwegian embassies. The Red Cross said in a statement that one of its doctors examined Sutay and he was in good health to travel and be reunited with his family.
Attempts by The Associated Press to locate relatives of Sutay after his capture were unsuccessful. His service record lists his hometown as Willow Spring, North Carolina.
Sutay was in Colombia as a tourist, the U.S. Embassy has said. The FARC said it captured him on June 20 in the municipality of El Retorno in the southeastern state of Guaviare.
When it announced his capture, the FARC said it suspected him of being an agent of the U.S. government, whose close military assistance in training, logistics, surveillance and intelligence since 2000 has helped Colombia's government badly weaken the rebels.
"What would you think of a man who is in a war zone, who has a secret camera in his watch, who is carrying [global] positioning equipment . . . who has a military uniform in his suitcase?" FARC negotiator Rodrigo Granda said after the rebels announced his capture.
But local officials in Guaviare and U.S. reporters who ran into Sutay there all said that he appeared to be nothing but a tourist who was determined to walk through miles of thick jungle toward Colombia's eastern border.
Pentagon records provided to The Associated Press said Sutay was a private born in 1985 who served in the U.S. Army as a combat engineer from November 2009 to March 2013 and who was deployed in Afghanistan for the year ending November 2011.
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