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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Colombian Policeman Escapes After 8 Years in Rebel Hideout

BOGOTA, Colombia -- A police officer who fled to freedom after eight years as a hostage of leftist rebels said he was held with three U.S. military contractors and former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt.

Jhon Frank Pinchao fled his captors, guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, near the southeastern town of Mitu, where he had been taken hostage during a rebel attack.

He walked for 17 days in the Amazon jungle before running into a counternarcotics patrol Wednesday.

At a news conference Wednesday evening flanked by Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos, Pinchao told reporters that he last saw the three Americans -- Marc Gonsalves, Tom Howes and Keith Stansell -- and Betancourt on April 28. He said Gonsalves was suffering from hepatitis at the time of his escape.

The three Americans were captured in February 2003 by FARC when their plane went down during a surveillance mission in southern Colombia.

He provided no other details about the health or well-being of the Americans, Betancourt or the other politicians and police officers being held with him at the time of his escape. Betancourt, an anti-corruption congresswoman, was kidnapped on Feb. 23, 2002 while campaigning for president in the south.

He recounted how he took advantage of a lapse by his captors to escape from the jungle camp where he and 12 others were being held.

"I hope it's not my fault that the others face difficulties now," Pinchao said while breaking into tears.

Pinchao said he had to walk, swim and crawl through Colombia's remote jungle before being found Wednesday.