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Last Updated: Friday, 26 September, 2003, 01:30 GMT 02:30 UK
Briton 'rolled' to freedom
By Jeremy McDermott
BBC correspondent in Bogota

An indigenous Indian from the Kogui tribe saw a "white man" staggering down a path near his village of Don Diego in the snow-capped mountains of the Sierra Nevada.

"He was very tired and vomiting," said Mauricio, wearing traditional Kogui dress.

"He wanted to be taken down to Santa Marta, but we gave him some food and put him to bed whilst one of us went to tell the army."

Matthew Scott, 19, was on his second day of wandering alone through the mountains more than 2000 metres above sea level after making a daring escape from his captors.

Matthew Scott is recovering in a Colombia hospital
Matthew Scott is recovering in a Colombian hospital
Looking happy but exhausted, he said: "We were marching in a line up a hill and I fell, then rolled down the slope and took advantage of the situation to escape.

"I was afraid I was going to break an arm or a leg. It was raining and the visibility was bad."

Miraculously he did not hurt himself in the fall and his captors, intent on avoiding pursuing security forces, pushed on with the remaining seven captives, including Briton Mark Henderson.

When Mr Scott realised they were not coming after him he doubled back and tried to retrace his steps back towards the ruins of the Lost City of the Sierra Nevada from where he had been abducted.

"In my hurry to escape I didn't feel hungry. But when I had to stop because of the rain I took the chance to eat some fruit I had picked whilst on the move.

Fruit and water

"This gave me the strength to start the march again."

Fruit and water from the mountains streams were all that kept him alive as he searched for some sort of civilisation, suffering from sunstroke, dehydration and cuts from the jungle foliage he passed through.

The first real food he had was that given him by the Kogui Indians.

"When I found these people they gave me some bean soup with a little salt and three oranges."

The operation is intense and we are closing all the escape routes. The aim is to get them back alive and reunite them with their families
Army commander General Carlos Ospina

Mr Scott was debriefed by the Colombian military, which flew him in a helicopter to the Caribbean city of Santa Marta where he had set off for his trek to the Lost City more than two weeks ago.

The soldiers were keen for some clues as to the intentions of the kidnappers and their identity.

But the trail was already 12 days old and Mr Scott was unable to confirm which group the kidnappers came from.

"I don't know who the kidnappers are. About 20 armed men took us into the mountains. They had boots and camouflage uniforms like the army use," he said.

Mr Scott also had little hope to offer the families of the other seven hostages as they had been on a forced march ever since the kidnapping and had not had a chance to talk.

"The rest of the group seemed fine," Mr Scott said, "except for one of the Israelis who was having trouble. His pace was slow especially when we moved uphill."

Army commander General Carlos Ospina, who is leading the rescue operation for the remaining missing tourists, said that his troops were encircling the kidnappers, moving deeper into the mountains to altitudes of more than 3500 metres.

"The operation is intense and we are closing all the escape routes. The aim is to get them back alive and reunite them with their families," he said.

Yet the fact that Mathew Scott wandered for 12 days without meeting any of the searching security forces does not instil confidence that the operation is looking in the right place.

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