URGENT Kidnappers Free Colonel Unharmed in Santiago Suburb
SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) _ An army protocol officer held by communist-led guerrillas for more than three days was released unharmed late Thursday, a family member said.
The officer, Col. Mario Haeberle, 62, was freed in the eastern suburb of Nunnoa because his continued detention served no further purpose, the kidnappers told The Associated Press in a telephone call.
″The decision to free Col. Haeberle is because we consider complete our fundamental objectives,″ said the communique issued by the leftist Manuel Rodgriguez Patriotic Front, which is battling to oust the military government.
A family member contacted by telephone at the colonel’s home confirmed Haeberle’s release and said he was at home, but no other details were immediately available. The family member said the officer was unharmed.
Earlier Thursday, Haeberle said in a letter to his wife that his captors had been negotiating with the government of President Gen. Augusto Pinochet for his release.
Haeberle also wrote that he had been handcuffed and was suffering from nausea because he was unable to take pills prescribed for his heart ailment.
Haeberle was abducted in his driveway Monday by armed and masked members of the front.
The kidnappers sent a copy of Haeberle’s letter to The Associated Press and other news organizations. A family member confirmed that it was in Haeberle’s handwriting.
The undated letter was the first indication of contacts between the government and the rebel group. Neither side had acknowledged that talks were taking place.
The guerrillas’ demands were not made public. Observers said the guerrillas might have kidnapped Haeberle to publicize their fight against the government of Pinochet, who seized power in a military coup in 1973.
The letter did not provide details about the negotiations.
″I hope this ends soon,″ Haeberle wrote.
″They have treated me as I think a prisoner ought to be treated but without torture,″ he wrote. ″They have told me that my situation could improve if the (police) search in the streets diminishes ... If the place where I am imprisoned is discovered, they are prepared to die.″
The kidnappers said in a statement Wednesday that ″further repressive maneuvers″ by the military would jeopardize Haeberle’s life.
Fifteen members of the guerrilla group were arrested last week in connection with the discovery of 50 tons of armaments at five locations in northern Chile. Security officials found two small arsenals in the Santiago metropolitan area on Wednesday.
The Roman Catholic archbishop of Santiago on Thursday urged the kidnappers to free Haeberle, saying his release would bring ″peace and happiness to his family″ and advance ″the search for peace and fraternity among Chileans.″
Cardinal Juan Francisco Fresno told reporters after a Mass that he had made the appeal at the request of Haeberle’s family.
The government issued an order Wednesday night prohibiting Chilean news media from publishing anything about the kidnapping except official reports. It exempted the cardinal’s remarks.
The restrictions blocked publication in Chile of a claim by the kidnappers that they had taken sensitive army documents from Haeberle’s briefcase.
The guerrillas claimed that one document was a summary of remarks by Gen. John Galvin, chief of the Panama-based U.S. Southern Command, to senior Chilean military officers during his visit earlier this month.
The alleged summary said Galvin expressed U.S. concern about corruption, lack of discipline and political divisions within the Chilean army and said he feared the Communist Party could use growing popular unrest to seize power.
Galvin was quoted as saying U.S. military forces were prepared to intervene in the event of instability ″to consolidate a friendly government.″
The document - two typewritten pages - was an army report on Galvin’s visit, the guerrillas claimed.
Stan Sheppard, a U.S. Embassy spokesman, said: ″The account of the meeting is a total fabrication.″
He said Galvin met with military officers named in the guerrilla document, but not in the embassy as it claimed, and ″the information in the communique does not correspond with what was discussed.″
Chilean journalists specializing in military affairs and civilians who have military contacts said army reports normally summarize a person’s views rather than quoting so extensively.
They said it was unlikely that the colonel, as protocol officer, would have access to any army report on the Galvin visit and added that the remarks attributed to the visitor seemed too undiplomatic to be true.