- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 18, 2009

BOGOTA (AP) - A partially paralyzed 69-year-old Swede was recovering in a hospital after leftist rebels released him from nearly two years of captivity, the man’s son said.

Erik Roland Larsson was the last known foreign hostage held in Colombia by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. Larsson, paralyzed in half his body, was handed over to detectives Tuesday in a rugged region of the northern state of Cordoba, the head of the DAS state security agency, Felipe Munoz, told The Associated Press.

Video provided by DAS to local media showed Larsson, apparently unable to walk, being lifted by police and soldiers from a canoe on the shore of a river in desolate, high terrain and placed on a stretcher and into an ambulance.

His son, Tommy Larsson, told The Associated Press, said Larsson was taken to a hospital but was to be flown to the capital, Bogota, later Wednesday. Tommy Larson, who spoke to his father by telephone late Tuesday, said he expects to return to Sweden next week.

Munoz said various Swedish non-governmental organizations had sought Larsson’s freedom.

“For us, it’s obviously a very happy day,” Swedish Embassy counselor Tommy Stromberg told the AP.

Stromberg said he did not know if a ransom was paid to FARC, but that Swedish police had worked closely with the DAS on the case.

The FARC had sought a $5 million ransom, according to the DAS.

Colombia’s Defense Ministry said in a report issued earlier this month that Larsson was the only foreigner still held captive in the nation.

Larsson was kidnapped from his ranch in Tierralta, not far from where he was freed, on May 16, 2007, along with his Colombian wife, Diana Pena. She escaped that same month following a gunbattle between her captors and police.

He had retired in Colombia after working for Skanska AB on construction of the Urra 1 hydroelectric project in the region, and named his ranch “Cielito Lindo,” Spanish for Pretty Little Sky.

Larsson’s son Tommy, who lives in Sweden, told the AP on Feb. 1 that he’d recently received a proof-of-life video but no ransom demand.

“A doctor saw the video and it appears that he had suffered from a stroke. His right arm, leg and parts of his face are paralyzed,” Tommy Larsson said then. “Daddy is old and sick. He has lost weight. He looks weak.”

Larsson became Colombia’s last known foreign hostage on July 2, when military agents posing as a humanitarian mission airlifted three U.S. military contractors and the French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt to freedom in an elaborate ruse.

At least 22 Colombian soldiers and police continue to be held by the FARC as political bargaining chips.


Associated Press writer Carlos Gonzalez contributed to this report.

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