AP: Thursday, June 4, 1998; 5:55 p.m. EDT
Colombia [Paramilitary] Group Says Hostages Killed
By Vivian Sequera
Associated Press Writer
BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) -- A three-week hostage drama in Colombia ended
Thursday with a right-wing paramilitary group's announcement that it had
killed 25 people abducted from an oil-refining city and burned their
bodies. The statement from the paramilitary group in Santander state said
the victims were executed after they were tried and convicted of belonging
to two guerrilla groups, the National Liberation Army and the Popular
President Ernesto Samper called the mass slaying ``a barbaric act.''
The abduction and killing of the civilians from Barrancabermeja, about 165
miles north of Bogota, marked a change in tactics by the paramilitary
groups blamed for a heavy share of the human rights abuses in Colombia.
Paramilitary leaders have taken responsibility for several massacres of
poor farmers in isolated rural areas, but this was the first attack and
kidnapping of civilians in a major city.
The vigilante groups are financed by landowners and drug traffickers to
counter the influence of leftist guerrillas waging a war against the
government. Human right groups say they sometimes act with the army's
consent or even direct support, a charge the government denies.
Authorities had no information on the location of the bodies, but said they
had no doubt the hostages were dead. The officials said it was unclear when
the executions took place, or why the victims were abducted instead of
being killed outright. The group did not ask for ransom.
Witnesses said 50 armed men entered a poor neighborhood in
Barrancabermeja the night of May 16 and killed seven people before carting
away 24 men and one woman in trucks.
The assault provoked a three-day general strike in the city, home of the
country's biggest oil refinery, which paralyzed fuel deliveries to the
Carlos Castano, Colombia's most notorious paramilitary leader, wrote to
authorities on May 26 to say the attack and abductions were the work of an
autonomous local paramilitary force belonging to an umbrella group he
leads, the United Auto-Defense Groups of Colombia.
A commission formed to negotiate the hostages' release had recently pled
for the captors to provide a video or photos proving they were
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