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Guerrillas Kidnap Three More Mayors

February 15, 1988

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ A leftist guerrilla group that has launched the biggest rebel offensive in Colombia has claimed responsibility for the weekend kidnap of eight mayors and three reporters, police said Monday.

The National Liberation Army, known as the ELN, said the abductions are linked with nationwide March 13 mayoral elections, according to Gov. Eduardo Assaf of northern Norte de Santander state, who spoke in a broadcast interview with the Colombian radio chain RCN.

The radio chain Caracol’s station in northeast Cucuta city reported that a person claiming to be with the ELN said in an anonymous telephone call Saturday that the kidnapped people would be used to carry messages to the government.

The kidnap victims would be released soon, the ELN reportedly told Caracol.

The rebel group was commemorating the 22nd anniversary Monday of the death of its founder, a Catholic priest, Camilo Torres. Torres was killed in a battle with army troops.

Torres was an admirer of Cuba’s Fidel Castro. The insurgent group still looks toward Castro for ideological leadership.

All eight mayors and three reporters were kidnapped in northeast Colombia between Friday night and Sunday afternoon, the police statement said.

The last three mayors to be kidnapped on Saturday night and early Sunday, were Jairo Camargo, of Chitaga in Norte de Santander, and Edilberto Mejia of Cerritos and Gonzalo Duarte of Carcasi, towns in Santander state.

Kidnapped earlier Saturday were the mayors of two more Norte de Santander towns, Jorge Suarez of Convencion and Ricaute Paez of Ocana.

Also kidnapped early Saturday was Daniel Palacios of Morales, in Bolivar state. He was released hours later.

Kidnapped Friday were Eduardo Solano of Aguachica, in Cesar state, and Ramiro Numa of Teorama in Norte de Santander.

A mayoral candidate in the Norte de Santander town of Gambita, Antonio Hurtado, disappeared and his family fears he, too, was kidnapped by the guerrillas, the Bogota daily El Espectador said.

In Cucuta, the ELN kidnapped two Cucuta radio reporters and a correspondent for the daily Vanguardia Liberal of Bucaramanga, the police said.

Police in Bucaramanga raided an ELN hideout Sunday night and arrested six people, Col. Orlando Montenegro, the chief of national police in that northeast city, said in an interview with RCN.

The police found 776 pounds of dynamite and a car bomb that was being assembled, the colonel said.

The ELN began an offensive last month, setting off bombs, attacking towns and ambushing army patrols.

The drive keyed on Colombia’s main oil pipeline that carries 215,000 barrels of crude a day from the Canon Limon field in northeast Arauca state.

The field, along the Venezuelan border, is operated by the Occidental Petroleum company of Bakersfield, Calif.

The 500-mile pipeline goes to Puerto Covenas on the Caribbean coast.

The ELN blew up the pipeline 12 times in the last two weeks. Colombia had to suspend its oil exports of 180,000 barrles a day for three weeks because of the bomb damage.

The ELN also set off a car bomb Feb. 5 in Bogota, damaging Occidental’s Colombian offices and injuring two guards.

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