Hundreds More Colombians Remain FARC Captives

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Four Colombian police officers are back home after 10 years of captivity as hostages of the FARC guerrilla group. But more than 40 fellow officers — and hundreds of other people — remain in the hands of rebel soldiers, and Colombians haven't forgotten them.


A week after her sudden rescue from the Colombian jungle, Ingrid Betancourt has been speaking out about her nearly six years in captivity. In Paris yesterday, this most famous of all the hostages called attention to those still being held by rebels in Colombia. And the people of Colombia haven't forgotten the remaining hostages either.

NPR's Juan Forero reports from Bogota.


JUAN FORERO: At their national headquarters, policemen and their families celebrated the return of four officers among those rescued last week. Hundreds of people waved white handkerchiefs and rose petals were dropped from the upper floors in the headquarters' vast atrium. Then a mass was held for those still in captivity.


FORERO: (Spanish spoken)

FORERO: The Anti-Kidnapping Free Country Foundation says nearly 700 people remain in the hands of the FARC. Guerilla commanders want to trade those prisoners for jailed rebels. Among those still in captivity is police colonel Luis Mendieta(ph).


FORERO: In 1998, the FARC launched a ferocious attack on the town of Meitu(ph) in southern Colombia. Some 1,400 guerillas overran the town, and some 45 police officers were taken prisoner in the attack - an assault captured on film and studied ever since.

Maria Teresa De Mendieta's(ph) life changed that day.

MONTAGNE: (Spanish spoken)

FORERO: She says that without her husband she's had to raise her two children alone. They were small when Colonel Mendieta was taken prisoner; now they're both in college. She knew little about how her husband was doing until earlier this year, when so-called proof of life letters arrived.

He wrote them in the jungle and two women the FARC released carried them out. They amount to a diary of hardship. Sitting in her living room, she reads passages.

MONTAGNE: (Spanish spoken)

FORERO: There's not a hint of resentment or self-pity, but Colonel Mendieta talks about marching through tangled forests, about being afflicted with a serious malady in his legs, so serious that for a time he had to drag himself along the ground. He writes about losing track of time. He also says that he dreams of being reunited with his wife, and he says he's still in love with her.

FORERO: (Spanish spoken)

FORERO: The only real contact the hostages have with the outside world is through Caracol Radio's early morning program. That's when the families of the hostages call in.

FORERO: (Spanish spoken)

FORERO: The families leave messages for their loved ones. The hostages hear them on battered transistor radios, their most prized possessions. Colonel Mendieta's wife is a regular on Caracol, often leaving messages for her husband.

MONTAGNE: (Spanish spoken)

FORERO: She says she hopes her husband will be released unconditionally. She says it's the logical and humane thing to do.

Juan Forero, NPR News, Bogota.

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