Colombians recount hostage ordeal

Two women tell of Farc captives in chains, childbirth by kitchen knife and air raids.

    Gonzalez has for the first time met her grandchild, whose birth she heard of in radio broadcasts [AFP]
    "Very soon I will meet him, and little by little we will start sharing what for us is a rebirth," Rojas, 44, said on Friday at a news conference in Caracas, the Venezuelan capital.
    She said during her six years in captivity she experienced long treks through Colombian forests, prisoners held in chains, and terrifying aerial raids.
    Late on Friday, she and Gonzalez met their families and thanked Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president, for facilitating their release.
    Photo of son
    Wearing a photo of her son dangling from her neck, Rojas said it was not until two weeks ago that learned her three-year-old son Emmanuel was in a foster home in Bogota, the Colombian capital.
    Rojas, an aide to Ingrid Betancourt, a former Colombian presidential candidate who remains in captivity, spoke in general terms about the rebel who fathered her son, reported to be a rank-and-file guerrilla named Rigo.
    "I don't have any information about the boy's father. What's more, I don't have any idea if he even knows he's the boy's father," Rojas said.
    "The information I have is that he could even have died. I don't have any confirmation."
    After she learned she was pregnant, Rojas told her fellow captives of her anxiety and happiness.
    Emmanuel's birth
    Rojas said she was later separated from the other hostages and moved to a tent where she spent the final months alone sleeping on a cot and trying to "have the peace to face the situation of the birth."
    Her requests for a doctor went unfulfilled.
    When the contractions came in April 2004, it was the start of a full day of difficult labour, and Rojas said the rebels, including a male nurse who was in charge, explained she would need a Caesarean section because there were risks to the baby and her own life.
    "And I said, well, I'll put it in the hands of God," Rojas said.
    When she awoke from the anesthesia, one rebel told her: "Clara, don't move. ... It's a boy."
    'Gift from God'
    Rojas named him Emmanuel, "because he was a gift from God".
    He suffered a broken arm at birth when he was pulled out by the nurse, Rojas said.
    "When bombs are falling all around you, it's when you really understand the horror of war"

    Consuelo Gonzalez

    When Emmanuel was eight months old, Rojas said she allowed the rebels to take him away for two weeks to receive treatment for the broken arm and leishmaniasis, a parasite disease common in the jungle.
    Rojas did not hear of Emmanuel again until December 31, when she heard Alvaro Uribe, the Colombian president, announce on the radio that the child was no longer with her captors.
    DNA tests later confirmed the boy had been living in a Bogota foster home for more than two years under a different name.
    Captives in chains
    In the forest, radio broadcasts transmitting messages from relatives to the hostages were one of the few comforts for the captives.
    Gonzalez told media that some hostages would sleep, bathe and wash their clothes chained by the neck.
    She said her daily routine of sleeping on the jungle floor and surviving on rice and beans was interrupted occasionally by aerial raids.

    Calls have been made for the release of
    hundreds of other Farc hostages [AFP]

    "When bombs are falling all around you, it's when you really understand the horror of war,'' she said.
    Rojas said she and Bentancourt were punished when they attempted to escape.
    She said the rebels chained them to trees by the ankles and were shown a wild cat to deter them from escaping into the forest.
    The rebels later unshackled them, but Rojas said their captors kept trying to discourage escape attempts by frightening them.
    "They begin to bring animals of the worst sort - tarantulas appear all the time in the tent,'' Rojas said, "and later an enormous snake appears.''
    It was clearly more than coincidence, she said.
    Rojas said she had not seen Bentancourt since they were separated three years ago.
    She said she is worried about Betancourt's health but is encouraged by pressure from France for her and other captives' release.
    Farc terrorist?
    Chavez has called for the international community to recognise the Farc as "true armies" and to stop classifying them as terrorists.
    Rojas did not comment on whether or not she believed the Farc to be a terrorist organisation.
    However, she did condemn Farc as a "criminal  organisation" and describe their kidnappings as "a total violation of human dignity".
    Rojas said some captive police and soldiers are constantly chained.
    Gonzalez said she was never put in chains but that the entire experience was "a sort of torture".

    SOURCE: Agencies


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