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Colombia6 June 2008

Captured guerrilla says ELN was responsible for journalist’s abduction in February

A member of the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla force, Manuel “Martín” Bonett De la Rosa, who was injured and captured in a clash with the army on 2 June, has admitted to participating in the 17 February abduction of journalist Mario Alfonso Puello, who works for Radio Delfín, TV Norte and the regional daily La Noticia.

Bonnett said Puello, who was kidnapped with two other people at a mock checkpoint in the northern department of La Guajira on 17 February, is still being held by the ELN’s “Domingo Barrios Front”, which operates in the region. He and his two fellow captives are all in good health, Bonnett said.

The motives for their abduction are still unknown. The departmental authorities said at the time they thought the target might have been Aldo Brito Carrillo, the rector of the Open and Distance University (UNAD), who was in the same car as the other three but managed to escape at the last moment.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the country’s largest guerrilla group, denied any involvement in the kidnapping 10 days afterwards.

Reporters Without Borders hopes the ELN will hears its appeal for the rapid release of Puello and the other two hostages. “By quickly releasing the hostages, the ELN would give proof of its desire for peace,” the press freedom organisation said.

29.02.08 - The FARC denies any involvement in kidnapping of journalist Mario Alfonso Puello

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has denied responsibility for the kidnapping of journalist Mario Alfonso Puello, who was abducted at a road block in La Guajira department on 17 February. A man calling himself “Silfredo”, who said he was the spokesman for Front 59 of the FARC, phoned Caracol Radio in Riohacha, northern Colombia on the morning of 27 February to deny the group’s involvement. Alfonso Puello, who works for TV Norte, Radio Delfín and regional daily La Noticia, was with three other people when she was abducted, one of whom, Aldo Brito Carillo, rector of the Open and Distance National University (UNAD), managed to escape from the kidnappers.

Secretary to the Guajira government, José Maria Ballesteros, quoted by the Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP), said investigations had been made in the area and it was evident that Brito Carillo was the target of the kidnappers.The rector said that the kidnappers were wearing army uniform and that their weapons were not like those generally used by the FARC or the other guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army (ELN). The two armed groups, along with the Black Eagles, a dreaded paramilitary unit which has been intimidating local journalists, are fighting one another for control of Guajira department, on the border with Venezuela. The reasons for the abduction of Mario Alfonso Puello remain unclear and no ransom demand has so far been sent to her family.

22.02.08 - Demonstration today in support of journalist kidnapped five days ago at mock roadblock

Reporters Without Borders voices its support for a demonstration today by local media journalists in the northern department of La Guajira to demand the release of Mario Alfonso Puello, who works for Radio Delfín, TV Norte and the regional daily La Noticia. Puello was kidnapped along with two other people on a road near the Venezuelan border on 17 February.

“So far there is no information confirming that Puello’s abduction is linked to his work as a journalist but the Atlantic coast region is a high-risk one for the press and we full support the demonstration by La Guajira’s journalists,” the press freedom organisation said. “We also express our complete solidarity with Puello’s family and friends and we urge the authorities to do everything possible to ensure he is quickly and safely recovered.”

Puello was kidnapped at around 3:40 p.m. on 17 February at Dibuya, a locality near the Venezuelan border on the road linking the cities of Santa Marta and Riohacha. He was returning home with university academic Aldo Brito Carillo, Brito’s brother-in-law, Maicol Mendoza, and their driver, Jhon Romero, after a day of teaching adults to read and write.

Everyone in the car, except Brito, was kidnapped when they were forced to stop at a roadblock that appeared to be manned by solders as they had uniforms and used fluorescent traffic cones. Brito, who managed to escape, made no mention any previous threat. The authorities said they do not know if an armed group was responsible for the kidnapping.

As well as being a journalist, Puello works for the literacy programme for adults and local indigenous communities created by the Open and Distance University (UNAD), of which Brito is the rector. Puello has 10 children.

La Guajira’s journalists, who will be staging a street demonstration today, say they do not think Puello was kidnapped for ransom because he is not very well off.

In this country
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28 April - Colombia
Radio reporter gunned down in Cauca department, probably in connection with his work
27 February - Colombia
Call for inter-american intervention in new phone-tap scandal
27 August - Colombia
Authorities use judicial proceedings to intimidate media
20 June - Colombia
Kidnapped journalist Mario Alfonso Puello released after four months in captivity

in the annual report
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