Peruvian rebels have freed 36 construction workers from a Swedish company and a Peruvian firm who had been held captive for five days, a local government official has said.
The workers, kidnapped on Monday, had walked “seven hours from the mountains to reach our village”, Susano Guillen, lieutenant governor of a town in the southeastern Cusco region, told local radio, on Saturday.
Local officials have said the workers were kidnapped in the hamlet of Kepashiato, near the country’s main natural gas field in the Amazon jungle.
Peruvian President Ollanta Humala told the Peruvian radio station RPP that theguerrillas freed the captives as troops and police were closing in. He said no negotiations with the rebels had taken place.
“Seeing themselves surrounded, they released the 36 hostages,” Humala said from the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia.
He said the operations by security forces will continue until they track down the kidnappers.
Peruvian television showed images of the freed men waving to the camera and then praying. The men appeared tired as they climbed aboard army helicopters.
Freed hostage Rigoberto Muniz told TV channel N that the workers had been in the wilderness and were fed once a day, usually noodle soup. He and others said the rebels hadn’t mistreated them.
Ronald Pacheco, another of the workers, told RPP that the rebels “`freed us at 4 in the morning, told us we could go and pointed out the way back”. He said the rebels hadn’t made clear why they abducted them.
Guillen said the 36 men arrived wearing orange work clothes and had hiked about seven hours to reach the town.
“They arrived at 11 in the morning, and we were surprised to see them arrive,” Guillen said by phone.
“We gave them water because they were hungry and thirsty. Then they left for the town of Kiteni.” Guillen said many of their relatives were there.
Al Jazeera’s Mariana Sanchez, reporting from Lima, said that the experience was indicative of the rebels’ resources in the region.
“The kidnapping showed the rebels’ ability hold, transport, feed and hide 36 people at the same time in territory they control,” she said.
Local officials said previously that the rebels were demanding a $10m ransom.
Humala said government officials had explained to the workers’ employers that “the government’s policy is not to negotiate with kidnappers, and we won’t permit a company to stray from that policy”.
This has been an impeccable operation. Nothing has been ceded to these criminal terrorists,” the president said.
Three police officers and two soldiers were killed during the search, a military official said on condition of anonymity. He declined to be identified because he was not authorised to speak publicly.
The government had previously confirmed that one police officer was killed Thursday when a helicopter involved in the search was attacked with gunfire. Humala did not give details about casualties.
Those who were abducted were working as contractors on gas industry projects.
Earlier, the defense ministry said in a statement on Wednesday that 1,500 soldiers and police were involved in the search and rescue operation.
The abducted Peruvian workers, who began building a new gas treatment plant last year, were rounded up about on Monday from their hotels, Rosalio Sanchez, Kepashiato’s mayor, said.
The mayor said the rebels lingered for three hours, buying groceries and summoning about 20 residents to an assembly where they condemned the government and the natural gas industry.