Colombia: Leftist rebels free seven journalists, Reuters photographer still in captivity

New York, November 3, 1999 — Seven cameramen and reporters kidnapped by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) were released yesterday.

The journalists were set free in the afternoon of November 2 near Barrancabermeja, an important oil-refining center. Concern for the journalists’ safety had been running high since heavy fighting erupted on October 16 in the area where they were held hostage.

Reuters stringer Henry Romero remains in rebel captivity. Romero was kidnapped on October 26 by another rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), because he photographed an ELN commander without his trademark red-and-black face mask.

FARC’s Unit 24 detained the seven journalists on Friday, October 29 after inviting them to cover the displacement of farmers by right-wing paramilitary units operating in the south of Bolívar Department.

According to one of the journalists, Ademir Luna, the rebels compelled them to march long distances in order to visit villages where they heard farmers denouncing alleged paramilitary atrocities.

Colombian journalists have been united in denouncing these heavy-handed efforts to influence coverage of the civil war. “Today, the Colombian press is being held hostage,” wrote Francisco Santos, news editor of the Bogotá daily El Tiempo,in a October 31 editorial. “If the journalist isn’t free, his work isn’t either.”

“While CPJ welcomes the release of the seven journalists, we remain extremely concerned for the safety of Reuters photographer Henry Romero,” said CPJ Americas program coordinator Marylene Smeets. “We urge the ELN to release him immediately.”