Former FARC guerilla starts new French life

A former guerilla with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia who helped free a legislator being held hostage has arrived in France. He is the first to accept a French offer to welcome rebel defectors who are not wanted for crimes in Colombia.


A deserter from the Columbian rebel group FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) who guided a hostage to freedom arrived in Paris on Wednesday accompanied by Ingrid Betancourt, who herself spent six years as a FARC captive.


The Colombian government paid the ex-FARC fighter, Wilson Bueno, 330,000 euros as a reward for fleeing a rebel camp in October with one of the group’s high-profile hostages, Colombian politician Oscar Tulio Lizcano. The lawmaker, 63, had been held for eight years in jungle camps.


As part of a government program to encourage rebels to desert and turn over captives, Bueno, 28, who fought for more than 10 years and lost an eye in combat, will also receive asylum in France and a monthly payment of 1,600 euros.


He is the first guerrilla to win passage to another country under the program and will be joined in France by his girlfriend, another former guerrilla.


At a news conference before leaving Colombia on Tuesday, Bueno said: “I’ll be in France for the first time ever. We’ll see what future we’ll have there, but I’m sure all will be fine, and I’d like to thank those who’ve helped us leave.”


Bueno, also known as Isaza, said he had been touched by Lizcano’s plight.


Lizcano, who was forbidden to talk to anyone in captivity, said he often lined up sticks as if they were students and taught them imaginary English lessons to keep his sanity.


He and Bueno fled the FARC camp on October 26 and trudged for days through insect-infested jungle before they were found by an army patrol.


Colombian Defence Minister Juan Manuel Santos said at the Tuesday news conference: “The government has fulfilled its promise, the promise of [President] Alvaro Uribe. Wilson Bueno, alias ‘Isaza,’ and his partner Lilia Isabel will wake up in Paris tomorrow to their new life."


He continued: “We are not rewarding a kidnapping, but a brave attitude of a man who did not accept the illegal detention of Mr. Lizcano and who used his position inside the guerilla to release him.


“This is an important message to send to the guerrillas and to the world.”


France has committed to accept former FARC members on a case-by-case basis; although Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, interviewed by Europe 1 radio on Wednesday, declined to give details of the Bueno case.


“We have agreed to welcome FARC rebels who have repented,” Kouchner said.


Betancourt, who was rescued in July after six years in FARC captivity and has been touring South America to promote hostage talks with the guerrillas.

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