The family of a Swedish traveller who went missing 12 months in Colombia’s Choco region are desperate for news of his whereabouts.
The last contact with Jan Philip Braunisch, a 27-year old maths post graduate student, was from the town of Riosucio on the Atrato River on May 15, 2013.
His last email messages stated his plans to attempt to travel by canoe and on foot across the Darien Gap jungle to Panama. There have not been any confirmed sightings of Jan Philip since, though rumours have suggested he was seen walking in the remote area close to the Panama border.
‘We know that he intended to walk across the Darien Gap, and that he was asking directions in Riosucio,” says the missing Swede’s wife Shiwen Gao, who visited Colombia in September last year to try and pick up his trail. “He is a determined and experienced traveller, used to using map and compass, and has experience in remote areas.”
The Colombian authorities and the Swedish Embassy in Bogotá have been alerted to the missing Swede since last year and investigation teams have made several visits to the area, which is a zone notorious for smuggling and the presence of illegal armed groups, including the FARC guerrillas, fringe factions of the maoist ELN and drug gangs formed of former paramilitary units. Added to that is the extreme geographical challenge of an impenetrable area of dense jungle swamps and mountains that give the Darien Gap its formidable reputation for hard terrain.
In the Chocó illegal armed groups vie for access to lucrative arms, drugs and human trafficking routes. Although tourist resorts on the coast of the Choco are considered safe, any inland route requires traversing areas dominated by illegal armed groups. Some areas also have presence of anti-personnel landmines to protect hidden camps.
“We now know this is a dangerous and difficult area to investigate. Some parts of the border are inaccessible to state forces because of the high presence of gangs,” says Ms Gao.
Notes left by Jan Philip of his travel plans suggest he was heading to Panama via the River Cacarica, which forms one of the unofficial land routes to Panama. Church organisations supporting peaceful communities along the river have reported repeated threats to these communities by armed groups in the area, with a peak in incursions in the area May 2013, the time when Jan Philip possibly entered the zone.
The family of Jan Philip describe him as tall and slim (1.86m tall and 65kgs) with short light brown hair and wearing glasses. He speaks basic Spanish. The family requests anyone with information on his whereabouts to cooperate with investigative authorities in Colombia or Sweden.
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