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Ex-Hostage Recounts Ordeal in Colombia

December 23, 2003

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ Released after spending 101 days as a hostage in the hands of leftist rebels, Ido Yosef Guy said his worst day was No. 16, when he and three other Israeli captives dug a hole in the makeshift mud hut where they slept and escaped at dawn.

They sprinted off into the misty jungle of the Sierra Nevada mountains, which soar up from the Caribbean coast in northern Colombia. They left most of their belongings in bed, shaped to appear like sleeping bodies.

Their freedom, however, was short-lived.

``The rebels realized we were gone within an hour, and they captured us, again,″ Guy, 27, told The Associated Press late Monday, hours after being released along with the other Israelis and a Briton. ``We really should have done a better job on the beds.″

The four Israelis were tied up awhile, and denied the coffee they had become accustomed to drinking. One of the rebels threatened Guy, holding a gun to his head and demanding he hand over the knife they used to dig the hole.

``The worst thing was the uncertainty, and being defenseless,″ the blue-eyed, curly haired Guy said of his captivity. Also unpleasant was eating only potatoes and rice, bathing in rivers and not having toilet paper, he said.

On Monday, Guy relaxed in the Bogota residence of the Israeli ambassador, his family at his side, and participated in a menorah lighting ceremony to celebrate Hanukkah.

The computer systems engineer was released early Monday to a humanitarian commission in the Sierra Nevada mountains alongside Mark Henderson, of Britain, and fellow Israelis Orpaz Ohayon, 22, Beni Daniel, 26, and Erez Altawil, 24.

Gunmen from the National Liberation Army, known as the ELN, kidnapped the five along with three other foreign backpackers from archaeological ruins in the mountains on Sept. 12. One of the hostages, a British teenager, escaped the first day. Two other hostages _ a German and a Spaniard _ were released to the humanitarian commission in November.

The ELN claimed it carried out the abductions to draw attention to hardships inflicted on Indians of the Sierra Nevada, allegedly by the Colombian military and right-wing paramilitary fighters. The rebels said they agreed to the release after a humanitarian commission visited peasant communities. They said no ransom was requested.

Colombia has the world’s highest kidnapping rate, with some 3,000 abductions per year. Most are carried out by the nation’s two leftist rebel groups _ the ELN and the larger Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC.

On Monday, two helicopters carrying the commission landed on a bare hill, where the hostages and the rebels, armed and masked, were waiting. One smiling hostage talked on a handheld satellite phone as a rebel, a red-and-black ELN bandanna across his face, walked past carrying an assault rifle.

The ELN local rebel commander wished the former hostages a merry Christmas and apologized for having kidnapped them.

The helicopters then took off and landed at the airport in Valledupar, in the shadow of the snowcapped mountain range, where some of the Israeli hostages, wiping away tears, rushed into the arms of relatives.

All looked tired, and wore muddy clothes. They had been walking since Friday to get to the rendezvous point for the handover, the Rev. Hector Fabio Henao, a member of the humanitarian commission, told reporters.

Despite their ordeal, the former hostages appeared in good shape, Henao said.

Henao said the hostages’ release showed negotiating with the rebels can bear fruit.

``This gesture gives us Colombians great hope,″ he said.

Henderson, the British captive, said the beauty of the jungle-covered mountains was often the only thing that would get them through the day. He’s now he is ready for a change of scenery.

``I’ve seen enough of these mountains,″ he said. ``I don’t want to see any more of these mountains.″

In Yorkshire, England, bells rang at St. Cuthbert’s Church in Pateley Bridge, Henderson’s hometown. A candle had been lit for each day he was held captive.

Henderson’s parents held an impromptu press conference outside their home.

``This means we can really celebrate. We can have a really good Christmas,″ said Sharelle Henderson, Mark’s mother.