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Colombia Kidnappings on the Rise

by Yadira Ferrer

Both to finance rebels and build political pressure
(IPS) BOGOTA -- The kidnapping toll this year in Colombia reached 2,462 by September, over 9 percent higher than the same period in 1999, reported humanitarian groups that are calling for the creation of a tribunal to investigate and try Colombian cases of human rights violations.

The non-governmental organizations, including Pa’s Libre (Free Country), also stressed that 165 people died this year while being held captive.

Activists for Pa’s Libre, which works to support the victims of kidnappings and their families, said that of the cases reported this year, 1,067 included a demand for some sort of ransom, 246 were for political reasons, while the motives behind the remaining kidnappings are unknown.

Right-wing paramilitaries and leftist guerrilla groups committed the majority of these crimes, using kidnapping as a tool to finance their activities or pressure political decision-makers.

The most recent deaths of kidnapping victims, reported by Pa’s Libre, were Carlos Garc’a, Alejandro Henao and Alberto Nasiff, who were being held by the insurgent National Liberation Army (ELN).

The ELN, Colombia's second largest guerrilla force, released 18 people on Nov. 1 in the western city of Cali.

But the guerrillas abandoned Nasiff, a doctor, on a road near Cali where he died from a generalized infection arising from a wound suffered as the rebels fled military operatives.

Garc’a, meanwhile, is believed to have died of a heart attack, and Henao from a leg wound that also became infected.

The 18 people released this week had been kidnapped along with 22 others on Sept. 17 by the Jose Mar’a Becerra commando at three restaurants in a tourist area outside Cali.

The ELN commando is the same group that in 1999 burst into a church in the city's southern district, taking approximately 60 worshippers hostage in order to press the AndrŽs Pastrana government to launch peace talks.

The release of the 18 last week allowed the Colombian government's High Commissioner for Peace, Camilo Gomez, to announce that peace talks have begun with the ELN.

The negotiating process with the ELN has not officially started, however, due to difficulties in establishing a demilitarized zone in the Colombian northeast. The rebels want to use the are to hold a national convention in which they would work together with civil society representatives to draft an agenda for peace talks.

Another politically motivated kidnapping was perpetrated recently by the right-wing United Self-Defense of Colombia (AUC).

The paramilitaries are holding lawmakers Zulema Jattin and Manuel Lopez, from Cordoba department, and Antonio Guerra and An’bal Monterrosa, from Sucre.

The AUC announced it had kidnapped the politicians to express its rejection of a law for a prisoner exchange between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) -- the largest insurgent group in the country -- and the military.

According to government security forces, in addition to political pressure, the armed groups utilize kidnapping as a means to build their financial reserves.

The leftist guerrilla groups, the right-wing paramilitaries and government forces are caught up in a decades-long armed conflict that has taken a heavy toll on Colombia's civilian population in the form of killings, kidnappings and forced displacement.

Data from Pa’s Libre indicate that so far this year the ELN kidnapped 666 people, the FARC 625, while the People's Popular Army and smaller subversive organizations were responsible for another 246.

The paramilitaries, meanwhile, are blamed for 167 kidnappings, common criminals for 257, and the remaining 500 are attributed to unknown perpetrators.

Eduardo Delgadillo, author of the study "Kidnapping in Colombia," told IPS that the armed groups perpetrate kidnappings for extortive or political reasons, but there are also key causes behind the increase in this activity among common criminals.

With unemployment in Colombia at approximately 20 percent, an extremely high poverty rate -- 45 percent -- the complete lack of rehabilitation programs in the prisons and the ongoing migration to the cities, kidnappings are proving to be a tempting moneymaking proposition.

For Camilo Gonzalez, coordinator of Mandate for Peace -- the movement that collected 10 million votes in 1998 for an end to all forms of violence -- kidnapping is one of the worst forms of human rights abuse.

The situation in Colombia, Gonzalez stated, requires the creation of an international court, made up of world leaders, to investigate and punish the actors in this country's armed conflict and other criminals who are responsible for human rights crimes.

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Albion Monitor November 6, 2000 (

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