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UK tourist slips Colombia kidnappers
( 2003-09-25 10:10) (Agencies)

British tourist kidnapped 12 days ago in the mountains with seven other foreigners escaped by sliding down a precipice and was fed by Indians before an army patrol found him Wednesday.

Matthew Scott, 19, of London, evaded his captors during a forced walk through the thick jungles of the Sierra Nevada mountains, Gen. Carlos Alberto Ospina, commander of the Colombian army, told The Associated Press.

An exhausted Scott said from a hospital bed at a military base in Santa Maria, "I haven't eaten hardly anything for the last 12 days."

Scott ! along with another Briton, four Israelis, a German and a Spaniard ! was kidnapped from the Lost City, a pre-Columbian archaeological site in the nearby Sierra Nevada mountains, on Sept. 12 by camouflage-clad gunmen.

Scott was staying in a cabin several days' walk from the nearest road, when the kidnappers broke down the doors, stole valuables and marched him and seven other foreigners deep into the mountains.

The kidnappers left behind another five foreigners that had also been staying in the cabins, apparently because they were physically unfit or lacked sturdy walking shoes.

Scott escaped Monday and spent two days walking down a river valley before reaching the safety of an Indian village whose inhabitants offered him food and care, Army Gen. Leonel Gomez told reporters in Santa Marta.

Scott said, "We were walking in a line with the guerrillas. It was raining in the mountains, the visibility wasn't good, and I quickly slipped down the mountain."

He added that he did not know which armed group his captors belonged to. Suspicion has centered on two leftist Colombian rebel groups who commonly take hostages for ransom.

Scott said he and the other hostages endured forced marches across high mountains and thick jungle, with practically no food.

"The tribe that found me gave me soup and beans with a little salt and three oranges. Those are the only things I've eaten in the last 12 days," Scott said, adding that the remaining seven hostages ! who remained missing ! were in dire straits.

"The guy from Israel has asthma, and the other people are very demoralized," Scott said. "They have to walk, a lot, every day, in the rain. The guerrillas weren't giving us very much food."

Gen. Ospina said Scott has already provided information that enabled security forces to narrow their search for the remaining hostages.

"This gives us hope to continue with the operation and free them," Ospina said.

Scott was to due to be debriefed later Wednesday by the attorney general's office, said army Capt. Jorge Flores. British Embassy officials met with him earlier.

Colombia's largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC ! has denied involvement in the mass kidnapping. There has been no comment from the smaller National Liberation Army, known as the ELN. Both groups are blamed for most of the 3,000 kidnappings that take place in Colombia every year.

The nation's biggest illegal paramilitary organization, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, has said its fighters had no part in the kidnapping.

Leftist rebel groups have been waging war against the Colombian government for nearly 40 years. About 3,500 people, mainly civilians, die in the fighting each year.

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