Colombia: Rebels seize seven journalists in Cesar department

New York, November 11, 1999 ­ CPJ is deeply concerned for the safety of seven Colombian journalists and their driver, who were kidnapped by leftist guerrillas yesterday while traveling to cover a right-wing paramilitary attack in Atánquez, in the northern department of Cesar.

Local sources informed CPJ that the journalists left the Cesar capital Valledupar at around 11:30 a.m. They were headed for the Atánquez district, a two-hour drive, to investigate an attack by right-wing paramilitary forces earlier that day. Later that afternoon, one of the journalists called from a mobile phone and left a message for a colleague in Valledupar, saying that he and his colleagues had been kidnapped. For security reasons, the hostage did not disclose the location where they are being held.

While the kidnapping was initially attributed to the National Liberation Army (ELN), CPJ’s sources believe Front 59 of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) is actually responsible. Both rebel armies have a presence in the region, as do the paramilitary United Self Defense Forces (AUC). As of 2:30 p.m. EST today, there was no news of a possible release.

The kidnapped journalists are:

  • David Sierra Daza, correspondent for the RCN Televisión network
  • José Urbano Céspedes, correspondent of Caracol Televisión network
  • Pablo Camargo Alí, correspondent of the television news program 24 Horas and reporter with the Valledupar daily El Pilón
  • Isbel Ballesteros, cameraman for RCN Televisión
  • Aldemar Cárdenas, cameraman for Caracol Televisión
  • Libar Gregorio Maestre, cameraman for the CM& television news program
  • Edgar de la Hoz, photographer with the Bucaramanga daily Vanguardia Liberal and the Valledupar daily El Pilón. Less than two months ago, De la Hoz was a witness to the cold-blooded murder of his El Pilón colleague Guzmán Quintero Torres, who is thought to have been killed in reprisal for his work as a journalist.

This outrage follows the October 26 kidnapping of Reuters stringer Henry Romero by the ELN in Valle del Cauca Department and the FARC’s October 29 kidnapping of seven journalists in Bolívar Department. All eight journalists were released in early November.

“Yet again, a Colombian faction has abused the country’s proud tradition of independent journalism to generate publicity for its own political agenda,” said CPJ Americas program coordinator Marylene Smeets. “We urge the kidnappers to release the seven journalists at once, and we remind all parties to the conflict that hostage-taking in internal conflict violates common Article 3 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions.”

For more information contact CPJ Americas program coordinator Marylene Smeets at 212.465.9344 X120