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Colombia: Escort to freedom

13-11-1997 News Release 97/45

The ICRC delegation in Colombia has facilitated the release of two engineers, held hostage since early 1997 by the National Liberation Army, one of the main guerrilla groups in the country. The releases, which occurred on 9 November, took place in the department of Antioquia and the department of Magdalena. The two men, a 47-year-old Norwegian and a 41-year-old Spaniard, had been captured on 21 February and 27 June respectively.

Nearly all the parties to the conflict in Colombia have for some years now been involved in hostage-taking. In recent months, the number of incidents has soared alarmingly. As of 15 October 1997, more than 420 cases had been recorded by the ICRC delegation in Bogotá, compared with 273 for the whole of 1996.

Hostage-taking is a grave breach of international humanitarian law under Article 3 common to the four Geneva Conventions. ICRC action in such cases is strictly humanitarian, with delegates limiting themselves to contacting the hostage-takers, visiting the persons held, forwarding Red Cross messages between captives and their families or representatives, where necessary providing basic essentials, and where appropriate furnishing logistical support at the time of release.

Between 1 January and 15 October 1997, the ICRC helped in the release of 219 persons who had been abducted throughout the country. In addition, the ICRC coordinated the release on 15 June of 70 soldiers who had been held captive by the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces. As regards the two engineers who have just been released, the ICRC had no direct contact with them during their captivity, but was able to send them messages from their families and supply them with clothes.