February 1, 1999
Right-wing Colombian paramilitary says it kidnapped rights workers

                  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 group
                  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 rebels
                  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 that
                  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
                  the kidnappings.

                  Copyright 1999 The Associated Press.