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Page last updated at 22:03 GMT, Sunday, 26 October 2008

Farc hostage escapes with guard

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Oscar Tulio Lizcano speaks about his captivity

A former Colombian congressman who was held by left-wing guerrillas for more than eight years has escaped, along with a rebel who had been guarding him.

Oscar Tulio Lizcano said they escaped from a Farc camp in the jungle in western Colombia, and were found three days later by Colombian soldiers.

Earlier reports indicated Mr Lizcano, 62, had been rescued by the military.

He is the first Farc hostage to gain freedom since the military freed Ingrid Betancourt in July.

The Colombian president, Alvaro Uribe, has said the Farc rebel who escaped with Mr Lizcano will be granted asylum in France and a reward.

Prisoner exchange

"Please understand that if I am incoherent, it is from being out of the habit of speaking," said Mr Lizcano at an air base in Cali.

He looked gaunt, with a beard and long hair, and was wearing muddy trousers. He walked briefly, helped by Colombian Defence Minister Juan Manuel Santos, before sitting in a wheelchair and talking to his wife by telephone.

Mr Lizcano was kidnapped by the Farc - the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia - in 2000.

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He was, like Ingrid Betancourt and 14 other hostages who were rescued in July, being held for a prisoner exchange - the Marxist rebels want to secure the release of hundreds of their comrades in jail.

The army initially said that they had rescued Mr Lizcano.

However, in his first appearance since being picked up from the remote jungle province of Choco by the Pacific Coast, Mr Lizcano said he had fled his captors after persuading a Farc guerrilla to leave with him.

The two men wandered for three days through the jungle evading their pursuers before being picked up by security forces.

The BBC's Jeremy McDermott, in Medellin, says Mr Lizcano's escape is yet another blow to the Farc, which has suffered a series of defeats this year at the hands of the US-backed Colombian military.

Daring rescue

In July the army conducted a daring rescue, freeing former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, three Americans and 11 other Colombians.

Undercover military intelligence officers managed to trick a Farc commander into handing over his prisoners, thinking he was delivering them to an international humanitarian mission.

The army may have claimed it had rescued Mr Lizcano to distract attention from a scandal involving extrajudicial executions, our correspondent says.

Three colonels were fired after being linked to alleged murders of unemployed and homeless young men. Their deaths presented as being in combat so that officers could show results and get promotion.



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