BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) -- Declaring a new phase in its war with
Colombia's leftist guerrillas, a paramilitary group claimed responsibility
Monday for kidnapping four human rights workers.
The letter from the United Self-Defense Groups of Colombia, a national
rightist umbrella organization, came a day after two activists from another
human rights group were pulled off a bus and killed.
The letter did not mention the killings, but it warned the human rights
to which the kidnapped workers belong -- the Institute for People's
Empowerment -- to expect more attacks.
The kidnappings, it said, "mark the beginning of a lamentable, but
unavoidable, stage of the conflict." It accused the Institute of sympathizing
with leftist rebels.
Colombia's civil war has raged for 34 years and the government recently
opened peace talks with leftist rebels.
The paramilitary group said it would hold the four activists until the
curtail kidnappings and human rights groups "purge the guerrillas within their
The four human rights workers -- Jairo Bedoya, Olga Rodas, Jorge Salazar
and Claudia Tamayo -- were seized Thursday afternoon at their group's
office in Medellin, 95 miles northwest of Bogota.
The United Self-Defense Groups of Colombia said it had proof that one of
the four workers was a guerrilla, and called the other three
The Institute for People's Empowerment is a widely respected institute
receives funding from various international organizations, including the
European Union and Oxfam.
Much of the institute's work focuses on investigating massacres by private
right-wing militias, who are responsible for about 75 percent of Colombia's
political assassinations. According to prosecutors and foreign governments,
including the United States, the armed forces have tacitly, and sometimes
actively, supported the militias.
Colombia's landowner-backed paramilitary groups, which arose nearly two
decades ago in response to kidnappings and extortion by leftist rebels, have
killed thousands of alleged rebel sympathizers and assassinated hundreds of
human rights workers, labor activists and left-wing politicians.
The letter made no mention of the killing Sunday of two members of the
Committee for Solidarity with Political Prisoners. Everardo de Jesus and
Julio Ernesto Gonzalez were pulled off a bus traveling from Medellin to
Bogota and shot. They died on the spot.
Human rights groups denounced the kidnapping and the killings Sunday. The
president's peace commissioner, Victor Ricardo, appealed to the federal
public prosecutor Monday to start an urgent investigation of the killings and
Copyright 1999 The Associated Press.