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Colombia18 April 2005

FARC guerrillas free photographer Hernan Echeverri after holding him for three months

Photographer Hernan Echeverri of the bimonthly Urabá Hoy was released yesterday in a rural area near the town of Apartadó in the northwestern department of Antioquia after being held hostage for three months by Marxist guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

His daughter, Claudia Patricia Echeverri, told the Agence France-Presse news agency that the family learned of his released when he telephoned them. "We were reunited in the evening in Medellín," she said.

His release came a week after his family and friends complied with a FARC demand for the publication of a message in the news media criticising the "excesses" of the Antioquia authorities. They said no ransom was paid.

Echeverri was abducted at a roadblock set up by the FARC’s "34 Front" in the locality of Dabeiba (in the Urabá region of Antioquia).

13.04.05-FARC sends evidence that photographer Hernán Echeverri is still alive

According to a report posted on the website on 11 April, guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have confirmed that they are holding Hernán Echeverri Arboleda, the photographer with the regional monthly Urabá Hoy who was kidnapped on 22 January near Dabeiba in the northwestern department of Urabá.

The guerrillas sent Echeverri’s family a questionnaire filled out in his hand-writing. His sister, Irene Echeverri, said she regarded it as proof that "Hernán is alive" even if the family have no information about his state of health or in what conditions he is being held captive.

Irene Echeverri told the Agence France-Presse news agency that the FARC’s "José María Córdoba" division initially demanded a ransom of 128,000 dollars but finally offered to release the photographer if the press published a message criticising the "excesses" of the authorities in the Antioquia region.

27.01.05- Guerrillas kidnap journalist in northwestern department of Urabá

(JPEG) Reporters Without Borders today strongly condemned the kidnapping on 22 January of photographer Hernán Echeverri Arboleda (photo) of the bimonthly Urabá Hoy by Marxist guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

"We call on the FARC’s leaders to order Hernán Echeverri’s immediate and unconditional release," the press freedom organisation said.

"The news must not be taken hostage by armed groups, and the accusations levelled against journalists of supporting one or another side must stop," Reporters Without Borders said, calling on the media to campaign for his release for a long as necessary. "The press must show a united face to its aggressors if it wants its freedom to be respected."

Manuel Marulanda of the FARC, Nicolas Rodríguez Bautista of the ELN (National Liberation Army) and Salvatore Mancuso of the paramilitary United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC) are on the Reporters Without Borders worldwide list of 33 predators of press freedom because of the repeated attacks on the press by the armed groups they lead.

The army said Echeverri was abducted at a roadblock set up by the FARC’s "Front 34" in the locality of Dabeiba (in the department of Urabá). He had just left the town of Apartadó and was heading to Medellín to visit his family. The FARC have neither confirmed nor denied that they are holding him. The military authorities said they have launched operations aimed at freeing him.

The staff at Urabá Hoy said they thought the guerrillas set up the roadblock solely in order to kidnap Echeverri. "It is strange that he is the only one to be kidnapped although other vehicles passed the spot without being bothered," Urabá Hoy editor Jairo Banquett told Reporters Without Borders. "His car was found at the site with a tyre shot out, presumably to make him stop."

Banquett said it was possible the FARC thinks the newspaper supports the paramilitaries simply because it is located in a town controlled by paramilitaries. "When the FARC controlled the town at the beginning of the 1990s, people viewed us as guerrillas," Banquett said, stressing that the newspaper in fact takes no political sides.

Managing editor Antonio José García Fernández said the newspaper’s December issue gave a great deal of coverage to the demobilisation of the FARC’s sworn enemies, the AUC paramilitaries.

Both told Reporters Without Borders that, while they suspected Echeverri was kidnapped for political reasons, they did not rule out the possibility of other motives. "About ten people have been kidnapped on the same road in the course of the last two years," Banquett said. Both said the newspaper had received no threats.

Aged 64, retired and a former driver, Echeverri also runs a food programme for elderly people with few resources. "Journalism is hobby for him," Banquett said. Echeverri is also a shareholder in the newspaper. In the October 2003 elections, he was a candidate for Apartadó municipal councillor for an independent party, the Nuevo Partido.

Based in Apartadó, Urabá Hoy employs a total of nine people and recently brought out its ninth issues. The issues have a print run of 5,000.

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