Freed pair returned to captors to seek way out of jungle

 

The two Britons who were held captive in Colombia for nine months yesterday told of their terror as they were captured at gunpoint by guerrillas.

Mr Paul Winder (24), from Chelmsford, Essex, and Mr Tom Hart Dyke (29), from Eynsford, Kent, said they were taken hostage after stumbling across the rebels while hunting for rare species of orchid.

Mr Hart Dyke said they were generally looked after well by their captors, with whom they developed a strong sense of camaraderie. The kidnappers even showed him where to find some of the best specimens of orchids. But at one point the rebels said they wanted a ransom.

"They did mention that we had to pay a ransom and they said $5 million for each person", said Mr Winder. The pair faced an amazing dilemma after they were finally released on December 10th. After six days of wandering lost in the jungle they had to go back to their captors to ask for directions because they couldn't find their way back to civilisation.

The rebels had simply said to them, "Go, we don't need you", and the two men set off with only a compass to guide them, Mr Winder said. "We couldn't find our way back and went back to the guerrillas for directions." Asked if they hesitated before going back because of the risk of recapture, he said: "There was always that risk, but there were other risks too in the jungle and the swamp."

Mr Hart Dyke said that when they returned to the rebels' camp, "it was, like, `hi, how are you doing?' We had a cigarette and a drink with them and then went on our way."

Asked how it felt to be back, Mr Winder said: "It's great, we've been helped all the way.

President Andres Pastrana of Colombia said on Wednesday that hopes for a Christmas truce to give a temporary reprieve to intensifying violence rested with the country's biggest rebel group, the FARC.

In a sign of Christmas good will, Colombia's rebel National Liberation Army said it would in the next few days free 45 army and police officers being held hostage.