Negotiations led to success
Skilful negotiations by the German Government and the mediation of intelligence agent couple Mauss, ensured the release of a kidnapped dentist without a ransom having to be paid
District. As the spectacular kidnapping in Columbia drew to its close, nobody in our region could have imagined that the strings to ensure this release were being pulled in Germany, thousands of kilometres away, in the tranquil Hunsrück region.
German dentist Dr. Ottmar Broda had made the dream of his youth come true and was travelling across the South American continent in a cross-country vehicle (Munich number plates). Just before reaching the town of Cali in Columbia his trip came to a surprising end.
In an area controlled by guerrillas Dr. Broda was stopped, checked and subsequently arrested. The kidnapping of the German led to hectic activities at the German Embassy in Bogotá and among the Federal German security authorities. A marathon of negotiations started. All talks concerning the release of the kidnapped German were conducted with great skill on behalf of the German Government by the spokesman for foreign affairs of the SPD's parliamentary group, Dr. Gundram von Schenk, and supported as well as arranged by the legendary intelligence agents, Werner (58) and Ida Mauss (37).
All the negotiations were conducted on the basis of the peace talks which are supported by Germany.
The two agents from the Hunsrück who have had excellent contacts in Columbia for years, had been given the mandate to negotiate and mediate by the parties to the conflict: the guerrilla organization ELN and the Colombian Peace Commission.
With the consent of its entire organization the “central command” of the ELN had asked Herr and Frau Mauss in November (in writing) to continue to support and promote the peace process. This is a quote from their letter: “Without the support of Herr and Frau Mauss the beginning and the development of the peace process in Columbia would have been impossible”. The German bishop Emil Stehle (72, working in Quito/Ecuador) involved himself in Columbia's peace process as a member of the Bishops' Conference. After Dr. Broda's kidnapping became known he was one of the first to ask Herr and Frau Mauss for their help. The Hunsrück agent agreed and, as he stressed, for “humanitarian reasons” instituted the first mediation talks. After the ELN had agreed that the German was to be released without payment of a ransom, Bishop Stehle travelled to the guerrilla area in order to collect the dentist and get him to safety through the dangerous borderland between paramilitaries and guerrillas.
The release was directed by agent Mauss by telephone, via Germany. The man from the Hunsrück was guiding the group, led by Bishop Stehle, by radio telephone all over the Colombian jungle. The action had to be conducted in great secrecy, since the ELN was worried about disruptive measures by the Colombian military. If the military had turned up during the release of the hostage there would certainly have been a gun battle, of that Bishop Stehle is sure. After an approximately 15-hour drive in a jeep and one night's stay in a small village in the Colombian mountains, the hand-over was announced for Friday, 13.00 hrs. Around 13.30 hrs. the first guerrilla fighters appeared, armed to the teeth with machine guns and hand grenades.
When the rebels were sure, after several patrols, that there was no danger, a further group of 20 fighters arrived and brought the kidnapped German with them. Dr. Ottmar Broda cried when he fell into Bishop Stehle's arms. “Thank God it is all over”, were his first words. Werner Mauss stated to the WOCHENSPIEGEL: “The ELN saw this action as a signalling its humanitarian intentions; it wants peace in Columbia. This is why Dr. Broda was released without payment of a ransom”. The ELN’s deputy commander Antonio Garcia added: “We want peace in Columbia at long last and ask Germany to support us in this”.
The released Munich dentist, Dr. Broda, thanked the German Government, the Hunsrück agent Mauss, and Bishop Stehle for their efforts. “I was treated well by the ELN; they read every wish from my lips” he said.
But it was a very difficult time for the 61-year old, who, as he says himself, speaks almost no Spanish.
The ELN kept the 61-year old dentist in secret hideouts, constantly under guard.
During a first telephone conversation with his wife in Munich he was extremely happy: “It is all over, I am free”. Asked what he was particularly looking forward to in Bavaria when he was back home again after his one month as a hostage, Dr. Broda had a surprise for the reporter: “Half a litre of a good dry Riesling”. And then as he said good-bye, had a request for the WOCHENSPIEGEL's reporter: “Please send me a few photographs of the release, these were the most moving moments of my life”.
The Guerrilla Organization “ELN”
After the militarily much stronger FARC, the communist ELN is the second largest left wing guerrilla organization in Columbia. Influenced by “liberation theology” they have around 5,000 armed and uniformed fighters, plus around 86,000 secret members.
Experts consider the ELN to be strictly organized and difficult to predict in negotiations.
They finance themselves primarily through “tax income” from the areas controlled by them (60% of Columbia is in the hands of guerrillas) and the extortion of protection money.
In areas under their control the ELN even collects these so-called taxes from foreign companies. The second “economic support” is the kidnapping of foreign employees.
The conflict between the various guerrilla groups and the government has been holding Columbia (37 million inhabitants, three times the size of Germany) in its sway for 40 years. Around 35,000 people lose their lives every year in the bloodbaths caused by both sides.
The Hunsrück agent Werner Mauss and his wife Ida are considered the only mediators in the world who are trusted by both parties to the conflict, i.e. the guerrilla organization ELN and the Colombian Government.
They are the only foreigners world-wide who were and still are prepared to cross the crisis areas risking their own lives, in order to get to the “heartland” of the guerrillas and negotiate with their leaders.
How did the agent couple, get involved in Columbia?
At the recommendation of the Ministry of the Interior the agent was sent to Columbia in 1984.
Werner Mauss remembers: “Initially we were sent to Columbia to fight against the terrorists, i.e. against the guerrillas.
'To fight' is perhaps saying too much. We were to protect a company and work against the guerrillas, as we were used to doing here in Europe in the field of anti-terrorism”.
But the man from the Hunsrück soon found that the guerrillas had to be judged differently. And that it is much more important to fight poverty in Columbia. “The guerrillas themselves don't want to come to power and I believe that if we tackle the problem from this starting point, the problem and the need for a guerrilla force will disappear.” In 1984 Herr and Frau Mauss established contact with the guerrillas personally for the first time. Then, as now, an extremely dangerous venture.
In those days Mannesmann had problems with completing the work at one of their sites in the most difficult area of Columbia which was under the control of guerrillas and other groups. Then Mauss came on the scene and the kidnappings ceased. Mauss said at the time that he had succeeded in establishing contact with the ELN leadership.
With money from aid organizations and Mannesmann, and in cooperation with the Colombian Catholic Church, Mauss saw to it that schools, medical centres and similar social institutions were built. “Along a building site of around 380 km in length and 50 km in width we set up a pilot project.”
This led to the release of the four Mannesmann employees who had been kidnapped at the time, without a ransom having to be paid.
The release occurred, as Mauss states, only “due to the aid programme”. This action was very much supported at the time by the Colombian trade unions.
Due to this aid programme, German workers were from then on “protected” by the guerrillas. Mannesmann were thus able to complete their building project in time.
The commitment of the Hunsrück couple, Ida and Werner Mauss, brought them a lot of respect and trust in Colombia at the time.
By courtesy of the publishers: Wochenspiegel SW