Says Political Kidnappings ‘Totally Unacceptable’

Following is the text of a humanitarian appeal made by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Olara Otunnu, in Bogota, Colombia, on 2 June:

I just returned from a field visit to Antioquia, where I travelled to Medellin and the region of Uraba. During this trip I was in touch with displaced communities, women, children, non-governmental organizations, the Catholic Church and the military. I was very impressed by two things:the suffering and courage of the civilian population, and their yearning for peace and social justice.

Now, on my return to Bogota, I wish to address a particular appeal on an issue of humanitarian concern:the practice of abducting persons as a means of pressing a political point or conducting a political struggle is completely unacceptable to the international community. I appeal to all armed actors in the conflict to desist from this practice, regardless of their concerns, issues or the divisions that may exist within society. These should be resolved within the context of a political solution.

I refer to three particular cases, two of them carried out by the National Liberation Army (ELN). The first is the hijacking of an Avianca airliner on 20 April. Twenty-eight passengers remain detained. The second is the abduction from a church in Cali on 30 May of more than 140 worshippers. Dozens of parishioners remain hostages to this day.

I address a humanitarian appeal to the leadership of the ELN on behalf of the hostages’ families and the international community:Make a humanitarian gesture and release these people. I am especially distressed to learn that children are among those being held in Cali. During my visit to Antioquia, I received world from the families of three children among the hostages. All of them are under 14 years of age. There may be other children among the hostages. I would like to greet all of these children as free persons.

– 2 -Press Release HR/4416 4 June 1999

The third event concerns Senator Piedad Cordoba, abducted by the United Self-Defense Groups of Colombia (AUC) on 20 May. I am especially saddened by this episode because I was recently with the Senator at The Hague Appeal for Peace. At that time she invited me to visit her birthplace in the Department of Choco and the displaced communities in the city of Quibdo. I will be complying with her wishes on Saturday, and I hope that while I am still here, Senator Cordoba will be able to show me her childhood home and introduce me to families displaced by the armed conflict.

Finally, I wish to state that my mission is strictly humanitarian. This is a humanitarian appeal, and I am issuing it on behalf of the families of the people in custody and the international community.

I repeat:kidnapping is totally unacceptable. It is an act that stigmatizes the groups that resort to it, hurts their cause and produces trauma in families and terror in communities.

Note: For further information, please contact Victoria Graham, Tel: (212) 963-5508/3178; e-mail: graham@un. org.