FARC frees last foreign hostage

2009-03-18 07:26

Bogota - Leftist rebels on Tuesday freed the last known foreign hostage held in Colombia, an ailing 69-year-old Swede kidnapped nearly two years ago from the ranch where he'd retired.

Erik Roland Larsson, paralysed in half his body, was handed over to detectives in a rugged region of the northern state of Cordoba, the head of the DAS state security agency, Felipe Munoz, told The Associated Press.

Munoz said various Swedish non-governmental organisations had sought his freedom.

"For us, it's obviously a very happy day," Swedish Embassy counsellor Tommy Stromberg told the AP.

He said he did not know if a ransom was paid to Larsson's captors, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, but that Swedish police had worked closely with the DAS on the case.

The FARC had sought a $5 million ransom, according to the DAS, which said Larsson was being examined by doctors in the nearby city of Monteria and would later be flown to Bogota.

Larsson was kidnapped from his ranch, not far from where he was freed, on May 16, 2007, along with his Colombian wife. She escaped that same month following a gunbattle between her captors and police.

He had retired in Colombia after working for Skanska AB in construction, and named his ranch "Cielito Lindo", Spanish for Pretty Little Sky.

Larsson's son Tommy, who lives in Sweden, told the AP on February 1 that he'd recently received a proof-of-life video but no ransom demand.

"A doctor saw the video and it appears that he had suffered from a stroke. His right arm, leg and parts of his face are paralysed," Tommy Larsson said then. "Daddy is old and sick. He has lost weight. He looks weak."

Larsson became Colombia's last known foreign hostage on July 2, when military agents posing as a humanitarian mission airlifted three US military contractors and the French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt to freedom in an elaborate ruse.

At least 22 Colombian soldiers and police continue to be held by the FARC as political bargaining chips.

- AP

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