Colombian rebels intercepted letters to Bush from US hostages

( dpa ) - Colombian rebels seized letters that three US contractors held hostage in Colombia had written for US President George W Bush and other officials, released hostage Luis Eladio Perez said Thursday.

"I bring a very clear message for President Bush, for some of the candidates to the US presidency, for The New York Times, the Washington Post, that we please do not let these three US citizens stay in the Colombian jungle," Perez told Colombia's Radio Caracol form Caracas.

Perez, a former Colombian senator, was released Wednesday by the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) after more than six years in captivity.

He had hoped to bring letters addressed to Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the US House of Representatives, to likely Republican presidential candidate John McCain, and to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, who are seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. However, the letters were confiscated in a thorough search by FARC rebels on Tuesday.

Perez said that contractors Marc Gonsalves, Thomas Howes and Keith Stansell "are in quite delicate health conditions," as a result of the blows they suffered when the rebels brought down the airplane in which they travelled through southern Colombia to kidnap them in 2003.

"Thomas suffered a cut to the head which causes him frequent headaches, and he has a hypertension problem with very little medical treatment. Marc also has spine and knee problems as a result of the accident, as well as many tropical illnesses," Perez said.

He shared recent months in captivity with the US citizens and recalled that they were "psychologically very affected" by the 60- year jail sentence that a US judge imposed on extradited FARC leader known as "Simon Trinidad" for their kidnapping.

"They think that the sentence for them can be of a similar nature but in the Colombian jungle," Perez said.

"That was my anguish for taking those letters, to let President Bush and the US media know the tragedy that they are living through, their fear of abandonment by the United States," he said.

Former legislator Gloria Polanco, released Wednesday along with Perez and former legislators Orlando Beltran and Jorge Gechem, also tried to bring letters from former governor Alan Jara and other politicians and military officers being held.

The rebels confiscated these messages too, but Polanco stressed that she will meet the families of the hostages when she returns to Colombia, because the senders had told her what the letters contained.

"The (rebel) commander told me absolutely nothing could get through," she recalled.

Polanco's case had particularly shaken the Colombian public in recent years. She was kidnapped in July 2001 along with two of her three sons, then aged 18 and 20, when a group of rebels stormed their apartment building in the city of Neiva, in the south-western Colombian province of Huila.

The rebels were also seeking Polanco's husband, Jaime Lozada, then a senator, but he was not there at the time.

The rebel group released the couple's sons in 2004, and a year later, in December 2005, killed Lozada, allegedly for not paying the agreed ransom.

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