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Captives will be released soon, say Colombian guerrillas

BOGOTA, Colombia (CNN) -- A group of captive environmentalists and researchers may be released soon, according to the commander of Colombia's second-largest guerrilla group.

National Liberation Army (ELN) commander Nicolas Rodriguez -- alias "Gabino" -- claimed responsibility on Friday for kidnapping the Colombian environmentalists and an American professor who were hunting wildlife in a war-torn northwest region earlier this week.

In comments to local radio, Rodriguez said his fighters had snatched the group at gunpoint on Wednesday as a "preventive measure" but would probably release them later Friday.

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The group of at least 29 university students, professors and researchers disappeared near a town in a rural area of the northwestern state of Antioquia on Wednesday. Eleven university students, six professors and two local officials accompanying the group were among those kidnapped, CNN reported. They were in the region to collect and analyze samples of flora and fauna for CORNARE, a regional environmental group.

The U.S. man is John D. Lynch, a reptile expert who teaches at the Institute of Natural Sciences at Universidad Nacional in Bogota. He previously taught at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln and has published several articles about species of frogs and amphibians he and his colleagues discovered in Colombia.

The area is controlled by the Cuban-inspired ELN, which took them hostage, apparently to check that they did not pose a security risk.

"We have nothing against these people. They will be released in the course of the next few hours," Rodriguez told the Radionet radio news network.

He called on military units to pull out the area around la Union to permit the ELN to hand over the environmentalists to Red Cross and local government human rights officials.

The ELN, which has been waging a war against the state since the mid-1960s, gained notoriety last April when it hijacked a commercial airliner over northern Colombia and kidnapped all 41 on board. The following month another ELN unit abducted 160 worshippers during a Roman Catholic Mass in the southwest city of Cali.

All but four of those hostages have been released in return for hefty ransom payments.

Last year there were almost 3,000 abductions reported in the South American nation, which has been torn by civil war between the government and leftist guerrillas for the past 36 years.

Reuters contributed to this report.



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RELATED SITES:
Universidad Nacional de Colombia (Spanish)
U.S. Embassy in Colombia (Spanish)
FBI's Kidnappings and Missing Persons Investigations
Colombia Travel Warning Issued by U.S. State Department
Suriving a Kidnapping
Cornare
Institute of Natural Sciences at Universidad Nacional

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