Battle kills two Europeans on vacation in Colombian jungle
Mar. 06, 1997
BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ Four Europeans on a vacation adventure in the Colombian jungle were abducted by leftist rebels, held for a month, then caught in an army attack that ended in death for two of the tourists.
Guerrillas kidnapped the two Germans and two Austrians, who crossed into Colombia from Panama through the lush Darien Gap jungle, in early February.
The Europeans apparently did not notify their countries' consulates or Colombian officials when they made the dangerous trip across the ill-defined border into Los Katios National Park, a swampy refuge teeming with jaguar, wild boar, crocodiles _ as well as bandits and rebels.
On Feb. 7, the men were seized by members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the country's largest rebel group.
``These are not the only ones who are going through there. This trip through the Darien is becoming very popular with young people,'' said a German diplomat in Bogota, speaking on condition he not be further identified. ``Of course we warn them, but they go anyway.''
The men who died in the confusion of Tuesday's army raid were identified as Alexander Scheurer of Germany and Johann Kehrer of Austria. Kehrer's brother, Manfred, and another German, Mardan Muzinic, were swimming at the time of the attack and escaped.
The soldiers had no idea that the guerrillas held four foreigners captive, said Gen. Rito Alejo del Rio, commander of the army's 17th brigade, which mounted the raid.
Four rebels were also killed, three soldiers were wounded and one guerrilla was captured, he said. Military officials said rebel gunfire killed the Europeans.
Del Rio said his troops had been on the rebels' trail for 12 days before the raid, and noted that guerrillas in the region have recently attacked and robbed boats on the main waterway, the Atrato River. They killed three policemen in overrunning the town of Riosucio in January.
Del Rio said he asked the surviving tourists why they had entered such a wild region. ``They said they were very enchanted by the area and that's why they were there,'' he said.
He believed all the men to be in the early 30s and on vacation from steady jobs in their homelands.
The freed Europeans said the rebels told them they were demanding a $15 million ransom for the four, del Rio said.
Colombian rebels frequently kidnap for ransom. Foreigners often bring higher payments than Colombians, with single ransoms often reaching into the millions of dollars.
At least 45 foreigners were abducted in Colombia last year and more than $160 million in ransom was paid in the first 10 months of 1996, according to Fundacion Pais Libre, a group that monitors kidnappings.