BOGOTA Colombia's FARC rebels said they were holding a U.S. soldier captured a month ago, but were willing to release him to a humanitarian commission as they pursue peace talks with the Colombian government.
The FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, said late on Friday on its website that it caught a soldier identified as Kevin Scott Sutay on June 20 in a jungle region in the country's south, describing him as a mine clearance expert from New York who served in Afghanistan.
"Despite the right we have to hold Kevin Scott as a prisoner of war, we have taken the political decision to free him in the spirit of talks that are advancing in Havana with the Colombian government," the statement said.
It was referring to peace talks in the Cuban capital underway since last November aimed at ending five decades of conflict.
A short statement from the U.S. Embassy in Colombia confirmed Sutay was a U.S. citizen but "with no current links to the Military Forces of the United States." It condemned his capture, demanded his release and said it working closely with Colombian authorities.
U.S. Ambassador to Colombia Michael McKinley told local media while attending Colombia's independence day celebrations on Saturday that Sutay was a retired Marine believed to have traveled to Colombia as a tourist on a trip around Latin America.
The United States, which considers the FARC a terrorist organization, has helped Colombia's government in a military offensive over the last decade that has driven the rebels back into remote regions and diminished their numbers.
The guerrilla group called for a commission to be formed to assist in the soldier's release, headed by former Colombian Senator Piedad Cordoba and representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross and religious community Sant'Egidio.
The FARC said Sutay entered Colombia after traveling through Mexico and several Central American countries.
The FARC began as a communist agrarian movement in 1964 and has fought the government ever since in what is now Latin America's longest-running insurgency.
In 2008, the Colombian army freed three U.S. military contractors who the FARC had held in captivity for more than five years after shooting down their plane. They were freed in a daring rescue mission together with former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt.
(Reporting by Nelson Bocanegra; Writing by Peter Murphy; Editing by Robin Pomeroy and Eric Beech)