Guerrillas Free Two Young Americans
BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ Two young Americans emerged from more than 10 months of captivity in the Amazon jungle and told a news conference on Tuesday that they were well treated by their leftist guerrilla kidnappers.
Stephen Koneman, 22, and Jason McLachan, 21, both of Chicago, appeared before reporters at the U.S. Embassy following their release on Sunday.
In taped remarks broadcast earlier Tuesday, Koneman said he and McLachan were in a canoe in the Amazon last October when they were captured by the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces, a leftist rebel group.
Koneman said he and McLachan, friends since high school, are geographers, but that apparently the guerrillas thought they were CIA agents.
″They always treated us well, although they had their suspicions about what kind of work we were doing. But talking with them we wiped out their doubts and they saw that we were innocent.″
The two men were released on Sunday to Bishop Jose Luis Serna Alzate in southern Caqueta state, the U.S. Embassy said Tuesday in a news release.
″They (the guerrillas) told us that we should stay calm and that nothing was going to happen to us,″ Koneman said in Spanish when interviewed by the Colombian radio chain RCN.
The two young men left last June on what was intended to be a six-month trip through Latin America.
Both were senior students in geography, Koneman at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and McLachan at Columbia University in New York.
In a statement Koneman read on behalf of himself and McLachan at the news conference, Koneman said they were captured Oct. 4, and not Oct. 8 as reported on the radio earlier in the day.
Professor Thomas Yuill, a University of Wisconsin-Madison researcher who frequently travels to Colombia, said following their abduction that the area where the men disappeared was ″a pretty inhospitable place, with yellow fever, political guerrilla camps, drug camps and a river that has a strong current, waterfalls and piranhas.″
Koneman said at the news conference:
″For the last 10 1/2 months, we lived with a group of guerrillas at various camps in the jungle. Throughout the ordeal, we were treated well, eating the same food as our captors and living in the same kinds of shelters.
″We were provided with books, writing material and a chess set to pass the time.
″We suffered no serious health problems and are currently in fine health as the doctor here at the embassy confirmed today.
″We wrote several letters, but had no way of knowing whether or not they were being delivered.
″In the final weeks, we marched toward the northwest through the jungles.
″During this time an FARC (Spanish acronym for Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces) commander assured us the FARC was working toward our release, but would not specify what was being done.
″We took this news with some skepticism, and remained hopeful the ordeal would end well.″
Koneman said he and McLachan were delivered to Bishop Serne Alzate ″who underwent considerable risk on our behalf.″
He said the guerrilla organization’s decision to release them was ″on humanitarian grounds and no ransom was paid.″
Koneman, apparently refering to embassy warnings against making the jungle journey in the first place, said: ″We of course owe our most profound thanks and our humble apologies to everyone.″
He ended by saying, ″We will be traveling home in the next few days to be united with our families and friends in the United States.″
According to newspaper files in Madison, the two men said in a letter dated Sept. 22 that they were planning to canoe down the Putumayo River, which divides Colombia and Peru.
Chicago television station WLS said Tuesday that a letter sent by the two in May reached their parents in July, raising hopes then that they were still alive.