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Freed hostage: rebels seized letters American captives wrote to President Bush, others

Freed hostage: rebels seized letters American captives wrote to President Bush, others

A newly freed hostage said Thursday that leftist rebels confiscated letters by three U.S. military contractors asking for help from President George W. Bush and other leading American politicians.
Ex-Sen. Luis Eladio Perez also said that the three Americans, with whom he shared his last six months of jungle captivity, still suffer injuries from the plane crash five years ago that landed them in guerrilla hands.
He said the three were badly shaken by the 60-year prison sentence a U.S. judge slapped on a Colombian rebel last month after his conviction in connection with their captivity.
Before Perez parted ways on Feb. 4 with the Americans _ Thomas Howes, Marc Gonsalves and Keith Stansell _ they gave him letters they had written to President Bush, to leading Democrats in Congress "who had shown solidarity for them," to House speaker Nancy Pelosi and the leading presidential candidates.
They also wrote The New York Times and The Washington Post, he said in an interview with Caracol radio. But rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, took the letters away in a search before freeing Perez and three other Colombian politicians on Wednesday after holding each for more than six years.
Speaking from Venezuela, Perez said the gist of the letters was a plea not to be left "in the ostracism of the Colombian jungle."
On the Americans' injuries, he said Howes, 54, suffered a head blow during the crash "that gives him very strong recurring headaches. He's got a problem with hypertension with very little medical treatment, almost none, and it's very difficult to get drugs for hypertension."
Perez said Gonsalves, 35, and Stansell, 43, also has problems "resulting from the accident in the spine and knees."
He said the Americans also suffered "all kind of illnesses that we also got like leishmaniasis and malaria" and that Gonsalves had hepatitis recently.
Perez described the three Americans as being depressed by the Jan. 28 sentence given in Washington to Ricardo Palmera.
Palmera was convicted in July of conspiring to kidnap them.
Last weekend, a rebel commander vowed to hold the three Americans "for 60 years in a jungle prison."
FARC guerrillas captured the three when their surveillance plane crashed in rebel territory in southern Colombia on Feb. 13, 2003.
Though Palmera never denied his leading role in the FARC, he said he never saw the three Americans or kept them hostage himself.
"They understand that the FARC can impose the same sentence on them," Perez told Caracol in separate interview Wednesday evening.
Perez said that he imagined the three Americans' spirits would have been lifted somewhat by U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield's recent statements that Washington would be disposed to review Palmera's prison term if it would lead to their liberation.
"I think that that gave them a little bit of hope, that finally the U.S. government was concerned about them," he said.
In fact, Brownfield has stressed that the U.S. system of government prohibits the executive branch from interfering with a prison sentence _ though he has said Washington has not excluded any avenue for trying to secure the release of the three Americans.
A U.S. treaty with Colombia would allow it to send Palmera to a prison in this country.
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AP writer Cesar Garcia in Bogota contributed to this report.


Updated : 2020-12-06 07:16 GMT+08:00