By David Iaconangelo, Jul 20, 2013 10:20 AM EDT
(PHOTO CREDIT: AFP)
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) revealed in a statement on Saturday that they've been holding Kevin Scott Sutay, a former American serviceman and veteran of the Afghan War, captive since June 20. As a conciliatory gesture during ongoing peace talks between the rebel group and the Colombian government in Havana, Cuba, the FARC say they will release him. Sutay served as an anti-mining and explosives specialist in the US Navy until March of this year, the statement said. It did not specify the circumstances under which he was captured but indicated that he was taken in the southern jungle town of San Jose de Guaviare, near a Colombian military base.
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"Despite the right we have to hold Kevin Scott as a prisoner of war, we have taken the political decision to free him in the spirit of talks that are advancing in Havana with the Colombian government," the statement said.
According to the FARC, Sutay, a New Yorker, descended through Mexico and a handful of Central American countries before arriving in Colombia. US officials have not yet confirmed the claims.
The FARC and Colombia have been engaged in peace talks since November of last year, and have made considerable progress in brokering a deal. In late May, the two sides reached an agreement on land reform, a key priority for the FARC, in what was widely received as a major step forward in achieving peace.
Even as they move toward a deal, however, fighting continues. Upon the initiation of the talks, the FARC declared a unilateral ceasefire, and gave the Colombian government two months to lay down its arms. But that deadline passed -- Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos had been opposed to the idea from the beginning, calling it a sham to curry favor with the international community, and his government said it would keep military pressure on the rebels during the talks. Over the last decade, government forces have kept the FARC on the defensive, pushing them back into remote areas and battering their dwindling troops.
"With pain in my heart, we have to admit that we return to the stage of war that nobody in this country (Colombia) wants," FARC lead negotiator Ivan Marquez told reporters then.