DAILY CATHOLIC THURSDAY June 10, 1999 vol. 10, no. 112
NEWS & VIEWS
COLOMBIAN REBELS KIDNAP MORE HOSTAGES AMID CLAIMS REBEL LEADER MET AT VATICAN LAST WEEK TO APOLOGIZE
BOGOTA (CWNews.com) - The guerilla movement that reportedly kidnapped more than 140 Catholic churchgoers last week and 25 airliner passengers in April took 11 more hostages over the weekend, officials said on Monday.
A group of National Liberation Army rebels in motorboats waylaid a sportfishing expedition on the Magdalena River near Barranquilla on Sunday and took between eight and 11 of the 30 people hostage. Last Sunday, ELN rebels took 140 people from a Catholic church in Cali and continue to hold about 55 people from that raid, and in April kidnapped 41 people from an Avianca Airlines flight and still hold 25 of those people.
Jose Alfredo Escobar, the government anti-kidnapping czar, insisted that ELN was behind the kidnappings although no one has yet claimed responsibility. He added that he expected ELN to release about half of the remaining Cali hostages within the next few days.
Meanwhile, sources with the Cuban-backed National Liberation Army (ELN) rebels quoted by the Colombian newspaper El Expectador have said that a leader of the group met a "top Vatican authority" in Rome and apologized for kidnapping churchgoers last week.
The ELN sources told El Expectador that leader Nicolas Rodriguez Bautista -- known as "Gabino" -- traveled to Germany and the Vatican to announce the ELN's decision to release 25 hostages from a commercial airplane kidnapped in April, as well as the "50 or 52" hostages remaining in hands of the ELN after the kidnapping of churchgoers at a Catholic church in the city of Cali.
"As a response, the ELN expects the government to agree to create a demilitarized area to allow the ELN hold its national convention," the source said. According to the report, "Gabino" met last week with a "Vatican authority close to Pope John Paul II" and apologized for kidnapping churchgoers. "This was a wrong decision, a mistake that will be corrected," Gabino allegedly told the Vatican authority.
The source also said that the meeting of "Gabino" at the
Vatican was mediated by Bernd Schmidbauer, former German
Minister of the Interior and at present a Social Christian
congressman at the German Parliament. The Archbishop of
Cali, Isaias Duarte Cansino, reacted to the ELN's statement
by recalling that the Holy Father "has energetically
condemned the kidnapping of churchgoers." He added, "If the
rebels want to express any regret for their savage action,
the only credible way to do it is by releasing all hostages
without any precondition."
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NEWS & VIEWS