(CN) – a former member of the FARC terrorist organization was sentenced to 27 years in prison on Tuesday for holding three Americans hostage for years after their plane crashed in the Colombian jungle in 2003.
Diego Alfonso Navarrete Beltran, 43, admitted in August the he was a member Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias Colombianas, and pleaded guilty to hostage-taking charges — charges that could have resulted in a life sentence.
However, U.S. officials agreed in November 2014, not to seek the maximum penalty in return for Colombian government’s extradition of Beltran to stand trial.
The three Americans who were taken — Marc Gonsalves, Thomas Howes, and Keith Stansell — were working as contractors on a counter-drug mission for the Defense Department when their single-engine plane had to make an emergency landing.
The three were held hostage for 1,967 days; two others who were on the plane, Thomas Janis, an American citizen, and Sgt. Luis Alcides Cruz, a Colombian, were murdered near the crash site, the Justice Department said.
During their ordeal, Gonsalves, Howes and Stansell were often moved, bound and chained, from one jungle site to another. At one point, they were featured in a video as FARC attempted to use them as a bargaining chip in negotiations with the Colombian government. They men were rescued in 2008 by Colombian armed forces.
For much of their 5 1/2 years in FARC hands, Beltran served as the prisoners’ guard.
Appearing before U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth in Washington, Beltran apologized for his actions.
“I want to ask for forgiveness … because I am human,” he said in Spanish. Later he explained his actions by saying, “I was following orders.”
Two other FARC members have been convicted for their roles in the 2003 hostage-taking. In 2008, before the hostages were even freed, Juvenal Ovidio Ricardo Palmera Pineda, a senior FARC commander, was sentenced to 60 years in prison for his role in the kidnapping.
Last year, Alexander Beltran Herrara, another FARC commander, was sentenced to 27 years in prison.
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