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Freed Colombian hostages carry pets tamed in the jungle

By Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN
April 4, 2012 -- Updated 0523 GMT (1323 HKT)
Former FARC hostage Robinson Salcedo Guarin has two birds on his shoulders upon arriving in Villavicencio, Colombia, Monday.
Former FARC hostage Robinson Salcedo Guarin has two birds on his shoulders upon arriving in Villavicencio, Colombia, Monday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A police sergeant held hostage recounts how he cared for a peccary in the jungle
  • The sister of another freed hostage cradles an animal he brought with him
  • The wild animals became pets that offered comfort under harsh conditions
  • Rebels released the hostages -- and their pets -- on Monday

(CNN) -- A man wearing military fatigues walked with two bright green parrots perched on his shoulder. A peccary trotted behind a police sergeant.

The men were among 10 hostages Colombian rebels released this week after imprisoning them for more than a decade. The wild animals became pets that offered comfort under harsh conditions in jungle camps.

"In this situation, there are many things that help someone relax and pass the time, without counting days and counting years," Sgt. Jose Libardo Forero told reporters Tuesday, as the former hostages publicly discussed details of their captivity for the first time.

Libardo, who had been held by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia rebels since 1999, said he took in the peccary when the wild, pig-like animal was only two days old. He said he used a syringe to feed it milk and named it Josepo.

The police sergeant pointed to a scar on his forehead where the peccary bit him.

"They are aggressive. They are savage. But I trained him and he doesn't bite anymore. ... I took care of him," Libardo said.

Cameras captured Libardo and other former hostages with the animals on the way to meet their families at an airport in central Colombia, the first stop after the rebels handed over the group to a Red Cross-led team Monday.

Colombia hostages released

Olga Lucia Rojas cradled a kinkajou in her arms as she spoke with CNN affiliate Caracol TV. She said her brother, former hostage Wilson Rojas, brought the tiny animal with him.

They must have gone through very painful, difficult moments together
Rodrigo Cordoba, former president of the Colombian Association of Psychiatry

"His name is Rango. He adopted it in the jungle. He told us it was his companion. They wouldn't separate for any reason," she said.

Rodrigo Cordoba, former president of the Colombian Association of Psychiatry, told Caracol he was struck by how calm the animals seemed in videos of the freed hostages.

"It shows they've formed a relationship. ... They must have gone through very painful, difficult moments together," he said.

Speaking to reporters at a press conference Tuesday, the hostages described an escape attempt, a lightning strike that killed a rebel guarding them and fearing for their lives.

They said they were grateful to the team who negotiated their release. One noted that more must be done to fight the rebels.

"The guerrillas are weakened. They have problems, but they are not defeated," former hostage Cesar Augusto Lasso said, according to Caracol.

The leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, have been at war with the Colombian government since the 1960s.

Kidnapping government forces and civilians has been a key strategy of the rebel group.

Dramatic rescues, escapes and hostage handovers have revealed harsh conditions in jungle camps, including stories of prisoners chained to trees, grueling marches between hideouts, torrential rain and blistering sun.

While severely weakened in recent years, the rebels have continued to carry out kidnappings and attack security forces.

The FARC announced plans to release the 10 military and police hostages in February and said it would stop kidnapping civilians for money.

The rebels did not address the fate of its civilian captives then, nor did it renounce kidnapping for political purposes.

Hundreds of civilians remain prisoners of the guerrilla group throughout Colombia, according to the nonprofit Free Country Foundation.

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