Captive parliamentarian taught imaginary students to stay sane
Former Colombian parliamentarian Oscar Tulio Lizcano, who escaped from left-wing rebels, said Monday that he taught imaginary university students in order to stay sane during his eight-year captivity, dpa reported.
His captors, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), would not speak to him, he said. So, "I buried sticks, gave them names like Juan, Pedro and Carlos and I started to teach a class for them," Lizcano told Colombian media.
"That was a way to keep myself busy. Besides, I wrote poetry and I read a few books."
Lizcano said since the rank-and-file rebels were not allowed to communicate to him, he thought he would lose his mind. But, when he taught his imaginary students about South American independence hero Simon Bolivar, the rebels "got closer to listen."
Lizcano, 62, managed to flee from FARC with the help of his guard, Colombia's top defence official said Sunday.
Defence Minister Juan Manuel Santos said Lizcano and a FARC member with the alias of Isaza fled three days ago in the jungles of western Colombia and encountered a military unit, which brought them to safety.
In his first comments to the press from his hospital bed, Lizcano said that he favoured the exchange of hostages for rebels held in prison.
"Rescue by force is crazy - there is not the slightest doubt. It would be an immense mistake. They warned me that they would not hand me over alive," he said.
It is believed that FARC, which has been fighting a guerrilla war against the Colombian government for nearly 45 years, has more than 700 hostages, 28 of who are said to be "politically relevant."
The rebels intend to exchange this smaller group of politicians, police and military officers - some have been held for more than 10 years - for an estimated 500 imprisoned rebels. But they haven't yet reached any agreement with the Colombian government. Hundreds of other victims are being held for ransom.
Providing a detailed account of his escape, Lizcano said he panicked at various intervals during those three days, well aware that the rebels were following them. But Isaza encouraged him to keep going.
"I told him (Isaza) I was not going to be able to make it, and he gave me encouragement, a lot of courage. The fear was huge," Lizcano told Colombian radio network Caracol.
The two men saw a military patrol on a boat early Sunday and called out to them, but they were initially ignored.
"Since we were hugging each other, they thought we were drunkards and would not pay notice. There was no alternative except for Isaza to show his rifle, and then military officers jumped into the river and came for us," Lizcano said.
He said he suffered eight bouts of malaria, and also endured leishmaniasis, urinary tract infections and gastritis. He was admitted to hospital with malnutrition, anemia, respiratory problems and swollen feet, according to an initial medical report.
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe offered Isaza mercy and a new life in France.
FARC has been weakened since Uribe's first term of office in 2002, but political observers say it's unlikely that the government can win a military victory over the rebels.