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Travellers' Advisories, Safety and Security on the Road Recent News, political or military events, which may affect trip plans or routes. Personal and vehicle security, tips and questions.
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Old 25 Sep 2003
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Colombia

BOGOTA, Colombia (Reuters) - A 19-year-old British hiker has escaped his suspected Colombian rebel kidnappers, almost two weeks after being snatched near the jungle ruins of an ancient Indian city, the army and British officials say.

There was no word on the other seven abducted adventurers -- another Briton, four Israelis, a Spaniard and a German, who were also taken hostage on Sept 12.

Army commander Gen. Carlos Ospina told television on Wednesday the Briton, London-born Matthew Scott, threw himself off a cliff in the northern Sierra Nevada mountains to escape and was found by Indians on Tuesday morning. He was drained by the long, forced hikes as his kidnappers attempted to evade army searches.

Scott been taken by helicopter to a military hospital, Ospina said. In London, a British Foreign Office spokesman confirmed Scott was free.

His Indian rescuers, wearing long hair and traditional beige robes, appeared concerned about the Briton's health.

"He was dizzy and vomiting. Since he barely spoke Spanish, he didn't tell me what was wrong with him," an Indian told local television, without offering his name.

More than 2,000 troops, backed by Black Hawk helicopters, are searching for the hostages. Rescue operations this week had been hampered by heavy rains, complicating aerial surveillance, officials said.

The foreign tourists had hiked up the lawless Sierra Nevada mountains for two days from the Caribbean coast to reach Colombia's "Lost City," a spectacular 2,500-year-old Indian ruin.

The identity of the kidnappers is still not known. Witnesses say camouflage-clad gunmen grabbed the hikers and marched them into the jungle-matted slopes of the Sierra Nevada.

Earlier on Wednesday, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe blamed the Cuban-inspired National Liberation Army for the kidnapping. The rebels use ransom money to finance a four-decade-old guerrilla war.

Common criminals also take hostages, and a right-wing militia, accused of kidnapping, operates in the northern zone. More than 1,000 people have been abducted since the beginning of the year in Colombia, the world's kidnapping capital.

Getting the hostages back alive would be an important victory for Uribe, whose father was killed in the early 1980s by rebels during a botched kidnapping. He authorised a disastrous May rescue attempt for a former defence minister, an elected governor and eight military personnel -- who were shot to death by the rebels when Colombia's armed forces arrived.

"I speak every day, two or three times a day with the commanders of the (ongoing rescue) operations," Uribe said. "God willing, we will be successful.

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