Biologist Describes Being Hostage
Biologist Describes Being Hostage
Jun. 19, 2002
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BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ Eight months ago, Dutch biologist Roelant Jonker was ``put in storage'' by rebels who kidnapped him while he was studying the parrots of western Colombia.
Last week the red-haired 28-year-old emerged from captivity, dropped off on a rural road by a rebel in a four-wheel drive vehicle with tinted windows, after sympathizers paid his ransom.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Jonker was relieved, but brimming with hatred for a rebel commander who had taunted him and kept him in chains.
The Dutchman was one of at least 28 foreigners _ in addition to 3,000 Colombians _ kidnapped last year in this South American nation. Some never get out alive, like three American pro-Indian activists who were kidnapped and executed by the rebels in 1999.
The two main groups of leftist rebels use ransom money, along with ``taxes'' from the drug trade, to fuel a 38-year-old civil war against the government and a rival paramilitary group. The war kills thousands of people annually.
The United States has backed the government with $1.7 billion in aid in recent years, most of it aimed at fighting drug production. The Bush administration has asked Congress to allow Colombia to use some of the money to fight guerrilla groups as well. President-elect Alvaro Uribe is visiting Washington this week to ask for more help.
Kidnappings of foreigners abroad frequently make headlines _ but in Colombia, they often slip by unnoticed by the media. Diplomats want to keep it that way, believing ransoms and time in captivity increase with the level of press exposure.
For Jonker, the last eight months were spent enduring boredom, diarrhea and clouds of mosquitoes that deprived him of sleep and covered his body with itchy welts.
The rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, treated him like merchandise while subjecting him and his loved ones to misery. In phone conversations with intermediaries, the rebels referred to Jonker as ``the package.''
``They don't think it is awful waiting for six months, or two years,'' Jonker said in the interview Monday. ``They think that it's OK, that it's normal to dehumanize a person and put him in storage.
Jonker, a graduate student at Holland's University of Leiden, had come to Colombia on behalf of the World Parrot Trust to study breeding habits of the yellow-eared parrot, part of an effort to save the bird from extinction.
He was staying at a farmhouse in the Andean highlands when a dozen gun-toting FARC rebels arrived on Oct. 24, asked what he was doing there, and proceeded to search his bags. They pocketed his raincoat, his global-positioning system, flashlight, binoculars _ and the notebook documenting his work.
``That was terrible. All my observations _ everything was there,'' Jonker recalled as he tucked into a hamburger, fries and raspberry milkshake in a Bogota restaurant, trying to regain some of the 62 pounds he lost in captivity. A T-shirt and cargo pants hung loosely over his thin 6-foot-5 frame.
The rebels took him on a harrowing three-day hike over the mountains, where a misstep could have sent him tumbling to his death.
Jonker was kept in several jungle camps while the guerrillas sought a $1.26 million ransom. One of the camps, located in a mountain rain forest, was commanded by a rebel named Fercho Francisco, who described to Jonker in explicit detail how to efficiently kill a man with a machete. Every night, Francisco would personally attach a chain to one of Jonker's legs.
``He was enjoying his power over me very much,'' Jonker said. Commanders in other camps were better, including one who allowed Jonker to listen to Dutch Radio and BBC broadcasts on a short-wave radio.
At one point, Jonker was put into a hut with a Colombian hostage _ Oscar Tulio Lizcano, a congressman who was kidnapped in August 2000.
In the interview, Jonker showed deep concern for Lizcano, who remains in captivity and refers to himself half-jokingly as Nelson Mandela, South Africa's anti-apartheid crusader who was jailed for 27 years. The rebels say they want to trade Lizcano and 20 other kidnapped Colombian politicians for jailed rebels _ a deal the government has rejected.
``He's without hope,'' Jonker said. ``But he's very proud of his two sons. It's keeping him alive, the thought of his kids.''
When Jonker heard the amount the rebels were seeking for his own ransom, he told they were out of luck.
``I told them I was a student, and that I only had debts,'' he said.
In the end, Jonker said, a Colombian parrot foundation paid $29,400, and he was released on Friday.
After spending a few days in the Dutch ambassador's residence in Bogota, Jonker was to fly back to Holland. He was ready to put his ordeal behind him, but not to forgive his captors _ particularly Francisco, the sadistic rebel commander.
``If they ever catch him, I want him in Holland, to stand trial,'' Jonker said. ``I hate him.''
On the Web: www.worldparrottrust.org