Colombian rebels free last foreign hostage

March 19th, 2009 - 1:10 am ICT by IANS  

Copenhagen, March 18 (EFE) Colombian leftist rebels have released an elderly Swedish man who was held hostage in the Andean nation for almost two years. He is the last known foreign hostage.
Roland Larsson, a 69-year-old forestry engineer, is reportedly in good condition and eager to return home, his son, Tommy, told Swedish radio after speaking by telephone with his father.

Larsson was kidnapped by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) May 16, 2007, and was released Tuesday in a rural area in the northern province of Cordoba, about 700 km from the Colombian capital of Bogota, officials said.

“He’s doing well under the circumstances. He named all his children and laughed a couple of times,” Tommy Larsson said, adding he is hopeful his father will return to Sweden sometime next week.

According to Radio Sweden, which cited sources from Colombia’s intelligence service, Larsson suffered a stroke two months ago that left him partially paralysed and that was a key factor in the FARC’s decision to release him.

Larsson was kidnapped by a group of rebels from his ranch in the town of Tierralta, also in Cordoba; he had retired there after working for Swedish firm Skanska that was constructing the Urra hydroelectric project in that region.

The Swede became the last known foreign hostage in Colombia last year after an elite group of Colombian soldiers - one wearing Red Cross insignia - tricked a group of rebels into handing over three US military contractors, former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and other captives.

Most experts agree that the FARC has been weakened by desertions and pushed deeper into the jungle due to the efforts of US-backed, hard-line President Alvaro Uribe, but a hostage released earlier this year said the guerrillas are constantly replenishing their ranks with young recruits.

Founded in 1964 by the late Manuel “Sureshot” Marulanda, the FARC has battled a succession of Colombian governments. The group relies upon kidnapping for ransom, extortion and drug trafficking to fund its operations.

It also continues to hold almost two dozen Colombian security force members for political leverage.

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