Colombian troops were so close to rebel-held U.S. hostages they could hear them speaking, but lost them before they could be rescued, the defense minister said Monday.
The minister, Juan Manuel Santos, told W Radio that the U.S. defense contractors were seen bathing in a river about two months ago by soldiers in the jungles of southern Colombia. When the troops, who were on the other side of the river, moved closer to the men, they disappeared into the forest.
Marc Gonsalves, Thomas Howes and Keith Stansell were snatched by leftist rebels more than five years ago after their plane went down while they were on a drug-monitoring flight. The last proof of life was released by guerrillas in November.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia is demanding the release of hundreds of imprisoned rebels in return for freeing its hostages.