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World - Americas

Rebel leader apologizes for Colombian church kidnapping

Discord in Colombia

June 7, 1999
Web posted at: 5:19 p.m. EDT (2119 GMT)

BOGOTA, Colombia (CNN) -- The leader of a rebel group that kidnapped 143 people from a Colombian church last week apologized for the act in an interview published Monday.

"We beg forgiveness from the (Roman Catholic) Church and all the faithful for this act, and we're sure that many will understand what happened," said Nicolas Rodriguez, known as Gabino, maximum commander of the National Liberation Army (ELN), in the weekly news magazine Semana.

Rodriguez said he had called for his rebels to carry out a high profile attack to avenge the alleged killing of at least 25 peasants last month by a right-wing death squad in an ELN stronghold. But, he said, he had not authorized the specific targeting of a church.

"We're not enemies of the church," he said. "Once in a while, rich people have to experience the consequences of war. This will help them understand the effort that has to be made for peace."

ELN members swept into a church in an exclusive residential district of Cali last Sunday, taking 143 people into the nearby Andean mountains.

They released 84 of the churchgoers soon after and another five, all in poor health, on Saturday. At least 54 other are still in the hands of the rebels.

The ELN kidnapped at least another 10 people Sunday on the Magdalena River near the port city of Barranquilla, according to police and military spokesmen.

The 10 were part of a group of 32 members of a Barranquilla fishing club. They had been returning from an all-day fishing expedition when they were intercepted by about 30 rebels in speedboats, an army spokesman said.

ELN already held 25 hostages, taken when they hijacked a commercial airliner in northeast Colombia on April 12.

In a separate incident, the Marxist rebel group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) killed eight policemen sent to remove a roadblock across a highway near the town of La Paz.

FARC and ELN were founded in the mid-1960s and field a combined force of more than 20,000 fighters.

Peace talks between the Colombian government and the ELN collapsed in March when newly elected Colombian President Andres Pastrana refused to pull troops out of one of the ELN's strongholds in northern Bolivar province.

A land-for-peace deal with the FARC, instituted in November 1998, would still be in effect for at least the next six months, said Victor Ricardo, Pastrana's high commissioner for peace.

Reuters contributed to this report.

Colombian rebels break off peace talks
February 16, 1999
Colombian rebels kidnap more than 100 churchgoers; most later freed
May 31, 1999
Rebels make a fortune from crime, Colombian government says
May 11, 1999
More than 50 rebels killed, Colombia says
March 17, 1999

Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)
Presidencia de la Republica de Colombia
Latin America on the Net: Sur: Colombia: Informacion
Colombia General Information
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