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Kidnapped Missionaries May Be Freed

June 29, 1998

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) _ Heavily armed gunmen kidnapped 13 American missionaries Monday on a remote ranch in northern Guatemala, but the military said they were freed hours later.

Police Chief Felix Flores Diaz of the Peten town of Flores said by telephone Monday that eight unidentified men seized the missionaries, who are members of a group called Nueva Vida, or New Life. The religion and home base of the group was not immediately available.

The defense ministry said Monday night the group had been freed, but provided no details on how that was accomplished.

The defense minister, Gen. Hector Mario Barrios Celada, said the victims were apparently American citizens doing ``social work among our poor people in the Peten.″

Officials had earlier identified them as Swiss. Neither the Swiss nor the U.S. embassies had any comment on the reports.

The kidnapping occurred at a ranch near Sayaxche, a town about 155 miles north of Guatemala City. The town is 30 miles south of Flores, but a five-hour drive by vehicle on a dirt road.

In Guatemala City, National Police Chief Angel Conte Cojulun said authorities learned of the kidnapping after one hostage was released to get the word out. He said the kidnappers had demanded about $334,000 for the safe release of the others. Officials didn’t disclose if any ransom was paid.

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