The successful military rescue of three hostages on Sunday, dubbed Operation Chameleon, left no dead, said Colombia’s Defense Minister Gabriel Silva. However, the army failed to rescue a fourth hostage.
Colombian soldiers rescued three of four hostages that have been in FARC captivity for over twelve years. The operation took place on the 53rd birthday of one of them, General Luis Mendieta.
Silva’s statement contradicted President Alvaro Uribe’s announcement Sunday that “They have killed one of our sergeants.”
According to newspaper El Tiempo, Mendieta, Colonel Luis Enrique Murillo and Sergeant Arbey Argote realized their jungle captivity was over when members of the military shouted “We are the army, we are the army, we came for you!”
The rescue was the result of a three-month operation that, according to the military, started after the capture of “Marcos Parrilla,” a member of the FARC’s 1st Front, which is responsible for the captivity of the hostages.
“After we found him, the man decided to demobilize and gave us the exact location of the area where the hostages were kept. At that moment we began to organize the rescue operation,” armed forces commander General Freddy Padilla told the newspaper.
Following the testimony of the demobilized guerrilla, army intelligence officials began to follow the guerrillas and their hostages. Three weeks ago, army commanders Oscar Gonzalez and Padilla hand-picked the soldiers that would carry out the final stages of the rescue operation, Padilla said. President Alvaro Uribe gave the “green light” for the operation last Thursday.
Following the presidential go-ahead, some 300 members of the army, supported by the air force, came together in San Jose de Guaviare in the south of Colombia.
From the local army base there, the soldiers that were to rescue the hostages were brought close to the location where the hostages were being held, only 17 miles from where the 2008 “Operation Jaque” took place.
At 11:30 AM Sunday morning, soldiers and guerrillas started fighting and soldiers secured the safety of two hostages, Mendieta and Murillo.
65 minutes later, Padilla received a call from the rescue mission. “We have them, general. We have them.”
After the initial rescue, the soldiers continued looking for two remaining hostages who were said to be in the same camp.
Five hours later, Sergeant Delgado was found, hiding in the woods, left alone by his guards. The fourth hostage, William Donato, was alive, Delgado told the rescue team, but had been separated from the others in order to make a rescue operation more difficult.
Despite a long search, soldiers were not able to locate Donato.
Because of intense guerrilla activity in the region, the army was not able to remove the former hostages from the jungle immediately. They are expected to be flown to Bogota on Monday morning where they will be reunited with their families.