BOGOTA, Colombia – Colombia's main leftist rebel group on Sunday released a former U.S. army private who the guerrillas seized in June after he refused to heed local officials' warnings and wandered into rebel-held territory.
Kevin Scott Sutay, who is in his late 20s, was quietly turned over to Norwegian and Colombian officials along with the International Committee of the Red Cross in the same southeastern region where he had disappeared four months earlier.
In a statement, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry almost immediately thanked Colombia's government for its "tireless efforts" in securing the Afghanistan war veteran's release. Kerry also thanked the Rev. Jesse Jackson for advocating it.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, had said it was abandoning kidnapping as a condition for the launching of peace talks that began 11 months ago to end a half-century internal conflict.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos resisted FARC efforts to make what he deemed a "media show" of Sutay's release and no images were released of the early morning jungle handover or of reported his late-morning arrival in Bogota, the capital.
The rebels had announced in July their intention to free Sutay as a good-faith gesture but the liberation was delayed.
Santos' firmness on prohibiting a ceremonial release of Sutay included objecting to the FARC-endorsed intercession of Jackson, who met with rebel leaders in Cuba in late September and said then that he would go to Colombia to lobby for on behalf of Sutay's release.
Sutay was delivered at 11:30 a.m. local time to U.S. government representatives at Bogota's airport, according to a statement issued by the Cuban and Norwegian embassies.
The Red Cross said one of its doctors examined Sutay and he was good to travel and be reunited with his family. It was not immediately clear if he had flown on to the United States.
Sutay was the only foreigner known to be held by Colombian rebels.
Attempts by The Associated Press to locate relatives of Sutay after his capture were unsuccessful. His service record lists his hometown as Willow Spring, North Carolina.
Sutay was in Colombia as a tourist, the U.S. Embassy has said. The FARC said it captured him on June 20 in the municipality of El Retorno in the southeastern state of Guaviare.
When it announced his capture, the FARC said it suspected him of being an agent of the U.S. government, whose close military assistance in training, logistics, surveillance and intelligence since 2000 has helped Colombia's government badly weaken the rebels.
"What would you think of a man who is in a war zone, who has a secret camera in his watch, who is carrying (global) positioning equipment ... who has a military uniform in his suitcase?" FARC negotiator Rodrigo Granda later.
Local officials in Guaviare and international reporters who encountered Sutay there in mid-June said he appeared to be nothing but a tourist who spoke little Spanish and was determined to travel by land through thick jungle to Puerto Inirida on Colombia's eastern border with Venezuela.
Pentagon records provided to The Associated Press said Sutay was a private, born in 1985, who served in the U.S. Army as a combat engineer from November 2009 to March 2013 and who was deployed in Afghanistan for a year ending in November 2011.