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Kidnapped American Had Long Marches

September 8, 1998

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ After trudging through Colombia’s rugged mountains for months as a captive of leftist guerrillas, Donald Lee Cary took great pleasure in sinking into his living room couch and counting his blessings.

But the retired Exxon executive can hardly rest easy.

Freed Sunday by his rebel captors, the Lubbock, Texas, native must now decide whether to remain in his wife’s homeland and sell their dairy farm outside Bogota where he was kidnapped March 21.

``I’ve got all kinds of bills to pay,″ he replied when asked his immediate plans. ``An awful lot of loose ends.″

Cary refused to discuss the ransom paid for his release. But he did allow that he had no kidnapping insurance _ a security blanket possessed by most foreign executives working here.

Cary, 64, looked fit and relaxed during an interview Monday at his Bogota apartment. He still wore the gray beard he grew in captivity and was 2 inches trimmer at the waist.

All the walking and a steady diet of ``guerrilla soup″ _ pasta and rice in broth _ saw to that.

The only injuries Cary suffered during his 170-day ordeal were a possibly fractured rib, shoulder and vertebra hurt when he fell in a mountain gorge in May.

There was plenty of tension, however.

Some nights, Cary’s fitful sleep was interrupted by the frightening whoosh of mortar shells soaring overhead before exploding nearby and by warplanes strafing suspected guerrilla positions.

After a three-hour walk from his last rebel encampment, Cary was turned over to the Red Cross near Medina, 40 miles southeast of Bogota, in foothills of the eastern cordillera.

For a time, he was held with four American birdwatchers kidnapped two days after his capture. Three of them were freed less than a month later; one escaped earlier.

Life on the trail was grueling, uncomfortable and tedious: Cary said he was constantly on the move during one 28-day stretch, spending the night in 26 different places.

He had to wash his own clothes and eating utensils, set up his own tent.

But his captors from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, always treated him with respect.

``I was never mistreated in any way, neither physically nor psychologically nor verbally,″ Cary said. Kidnapping is a prime revenue source for the FARC, Colombia’s oldest and largest rebel group.

Cary discussed with his captors the big push by Colombia’s new president, Andres Pastrana, to try to make peace with the guerrillas, who have been fighting the state for nearly four decades.

Rebel commanders were ``extraordinarily cautious,″ though, about accepting Pastrana’s overtures, Cary said. They told him they want to take power through elections but are afraid of being assassinated, as has happened with some 3,000 former rebels from other movements who demobilized over the past decade and entered politics.

Cary said he also gained insight into the guerrilla struggle and how it is largely represented by poor peasants.

``A lot of these people come from families where they’ve been mistreated as children,″ he said, so they run away and never get much of an education. A few rebels were so ignorant, Cary said, that they asked him if the United States and Colombia share a border.

Cary’s abduction was not uncommon in a country with the world’s highest kidnapping rate. He was snatched by three gunmen as he left his farm at dusk on a Saturday, and driven in his own car through Bogota.

As they were leaving the capital, the gunmen identified themselves as from the FARC’s 53rd Front and Cary knew he would be away for some time from his wife Lucia, who has been bedridden for more than two years with multiple sclerosis.

With Cary’s release, at least eight foreigners remained captive in Colombia: American Donald W. Riedel, who was seized Feb. 24, 1997, two Germans, a Frenchman, a Chilean, an Italian, a Canadian and an Ecuadoran, according to the government.

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