Skip to comments.Marxist Colombian Rebels (ELN) Admit to Kidnapping of Britons, Israelis
Posted on 09/29/2003 3:01:38 PM PDT by Tailgunner Joe
The second-largest rebel group in Colombia said Monday it was holding seven foreign backpackers kidnapped this month from an archaeological site in the mountains. It was the first claim of responsibility for the abduction.
The National Liberation Army, known as the ELN, did not make any demands in its statement, but said it was open to negotiations "to find a solution."
The group, which along with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, has been battling the Colombian government for four decades, also condemned the military operation under way to hunt for the kidnapped tourists. It warned President Alvaro Uribe that he will be to blame if the hostages are harmed.
"In the case of lamentable acts that could occur because of the presence, or the actions, of the army and paramilitary groups in the area, President Uribe would be held personally responsible," the ELN said.
Military commanders have said they would launch a rescue operation by elite soldiers if the hostages were tracked down by the helicopter-borne military search teams.
The group of eight backpackers four Israelis, two Britons, a German and a Spaniard was abducted by gunmen on Sept. 12 from the Lost City archaeological ruins in the snowcapped Sierra Nevada mountains. One of the Britons, 19-year-old Matthew Scott, escaped days later by hurling himself down a precipice.
The FARC, the biggest left-wing rebel group, was initially blamed, but it denied involvement. On Friday, Uribe accused the ELN and demanded it free the backpackers.
There was no immediate official reaction to the rebel statement, but the Rev. Dario Echeverri, a Roman Catholic Church leader who has promoted peace efforts in the past, said the communique raised hope for a quick release.
"They are expressing their will to find a way out," Echeverri told The Associated Press.
In its statement Monday, the ELN said the hostages were taken in an operation they dubbed "Allende Lives," timed to mark the 30th anniversary of the coup in Chile that overthrew the government of President Salvador Allende, a Marxist.
They claimed the "ultra-right forces" who killed Allende are still in power today, represented by leaders of the hostages' home countries Ariel Sharon of Israel, Tony Blair of England and Jose Maria Aznar of Spain. No mention was made of Germany's Gerhard Schroeder.
The rebels said they kidnapped the backpackers because soldiers and outlawed paramilitary groups were preventing the flow of food and goods into the Sierra Nevada mountains, inhabited by peasants and Indians.
The ELN urged the United Nations to visit the region to see firsthand the plight of impoverished inhabitants there.
The kidnapping was a setback in the all-out war that Uribe has launched against both rebel groups with the help of millions of dollars in military aid from the U.S. government. On Monday, Uribe is due to travel to Washington to secure pledges for continued military aid.
The Cuban-inspired ELN is blamed for some of Colombia's most notorious mass kidnappings. In 1999, ELN guerrillas hijacked a domestic airliner, forced the plane to land in rebel territory and kidnapped 41 passengers and crew members.
A year later, the ELN kidnapped 80 people from restaurants along a major Colombian highway.
The hostages who survived the ordeals have since been released.
The ELN also took an American photographer and a British reporter hostage in late January, releasing them 11 days later.
Your last thought is a good start ("...or it may show that ELN wants to be considered more 'revolutionary.'"). Guess there weren't any Americans around, and they thought that Britain and Israel were far enough away from Columbia.