March 19, 2009 / 12:26 AM / 10 years ago

Swede had stroke while held by Colombia rebels

By Hugh Bronstein

BOGOTA, March 18 (Reuters) - A Swedish man held for nearly two years by leftist Colombian rebels before being freed this week is paralyzed on one side of his body by a stroke he suffered while in captivity, a diplomat said on Wednesday.

Roland Larsson, 69, and his Colombian girlfriend were abducted from their home in northern Colombia by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, which funds itself with cocaine trafficking and extortion.

"He suffered a stroke during his captivity. This resulted in him being partly paralyzed, and that continues," Tommy Stromberg, consul at the Swedish embassy in Bogota, told Reuters after visiting Larsson.

"He looked, under the circumstances, fairly well. But the circumstances are rather extreme," said Stromberg, who added that the former captive was under medical care and would return to Sweden to see his family as soon as he was able to travel.

Larsson, who was living in retirement at the time of his abduction, was the last foreigner held by FARC.

The rebels originally asked for a $5 million ransom for Larsson, according to Colombian officials, who did not say whether any money was paid to free the Swede. They also did not give details on what negotiations led to his release.

Little is known about the Colombian woman who was abducted with Larsson. "A few days after the kidnapping she managed to escape, or that’s what it looks like," Stromberg said.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, backed by billions of dollars in U.S. military aid, has ordered Colombian security forces to go on the attack against FARC.

His policies have pushed the rebels out of urban areas, off the country’s main highways and deep into rural enclaves where some top leaders have been reduced to hiding in caves to escape army patrols.

A dramatic Colombian military intelligence operation last year led to the release of three American defense contractors who had been held for years by the rebels in secret jungle camps.

FARC still holds 22 Colombian police officers and soldiers for political leverage and hundreds of other Colombians for ransom. (Reporting by Hugh Bronstein; Editing by Paul Simao)

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