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Broadcast Renews Hope That Three Missionaries Will be Released

January 11, 1994

SANFORD, Fla. (AP) _ So much time had gone by that family members and fellow missionaries feared the worst for three Americans kidnapped by guerrillas in a South American jungle almost a year ago.

Then, just before Christmas, came word that the three men were alive.

It came in the form of a weak, sputtering shortwave-radio transmission that repeated a demand for $5 million in ransom. And it carried the voices of Richard L. Tenenhoff, C. David Mankins and Mark V. Rich, urging their families to keep the faith.

″It had been many months. . . It gave us confirmation that they were still alive,″ Dave Zelenak, a spokesman for the New Tribes Mission, said Monday.

Sanford is headquarters for the fundamentalist Protestant group the missionaries represented among the Kuna Indians along the Darien Gap of the Panama-Colombia border.

NTM officials and the State Department would disclose few details about the broadcast, monitored by missionaries in Panama on Dec. 15, or the status of negotiations for the men’s release. Family members in this country were elated by the news but also guarded.

″It’s really been a big encouragement to know they’re alive,″ said Tenenoff’s sister, Cathy Marcotte, of Tampa. ″As a family, we try to get by. You have to remember that God must have a purpose in all this.″

Last month’s message came over the shortwave radio taken with the men from the village of Pucuro, Panama, by the group of armed men who abducted them. The missionaries’ wives and children were not harmed and later returned to this country.

″The static and interference were very, very bad,″ said Mel Wyma, foreign secretary of the mission. ″As best as we could tell, it was a greeting from each of the three men, a confirmation of love for their wives and children.″

Wyma said there was no way to evaluate their physical or mental conditions.

Officials are unsure about the identities and political beliefs of the kidnappers. Panamanian President Guillermo Endara believes the rebels may belong to a group called the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

″They could be guerrilla forces - Colombian or Panamanian. They could be drug smugglers that have been moving into the area in recent years,″ Wyma told The St. Petersburg Times last week.

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