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BOGOTA, Colombia – Two years ago this month, a brilliant Colombian military operation freed 15 guerrilla-held hostages, including three U.S. military contractors and Ingrid Betancourt, a dual French-Colombian citizen and former presidential candidate.
The raid, in which commandos disguised as humanitarian aid workers tricked the rebels into handing over their prisoners, made headlines around the world. It led to the publication of several books while a number of films are in the works.
Yet an equally heroic rescue mission has gone largely unnoticed — at least outside of Colombia — mainly because the freed hostages are relative no-names.
On June 13, Colombian special forces stormed a rebel encampment and freed four government troops, some of whom had been held hostage for nearly 12 years.
The current edition of Semana newsmagazine has published exclusive photos, taken by the commandos themselves, of the moment they came upon the ragged and desperate prisoners.
It’s dramatic stuff.
In one photo, the hostages duck for cover amid the shooting. Police Gen. Luis Mendieta, captured by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in 1998, was sitting down to lunch as the raid unfolded. He looks stunned, as if he can’t believe a dozen years in hell are about to end.
The cruel treatment of the FARC prisoners is evident in a shot of Police Col. Enrique Murillo. He is pictured lying on his back in chains attached to a 45-pound stone buried in the ground so he couldn’t escape.
Once the rebel camp was secured, the newly liberated hostages traded their tattered clothes for military fatigues. In the final photo, they stand at attention as they wait to be airlifted out of the jungle.