ap - associated press
Ticker news report 5th July 1998
Colombian guerrillas release 15 women
Hopes rise for Mainz peace talks
Bogota/München (AP) The release of 15 female social workers by the Colombian ELN guerrillas has raised hopes for the success of the coming peace negotiations in Mainz, due to begin on July 12th. At a meeting in the northern mountains on Friday, the women, including several teenagers, were handed over by the ELN to a commission that has been campaigning for an end to the 34-year-old civil war. According to the army, the women were members of a uniformed, but unarmed volunteer unit that had been bringing supplies of foods and medicines to remote villages. The guerrilleros had kept them prisoner for two weeks believing them to be army spies.
ELN military chief Pablo Beltrán told the Munich news magazine „Focus“, that the meeting with the Bishop of Mainz gave the guerrillas the opportunity to talk in security to the Bogotá parliament’s National Peace Council. The ELN is offering a ceasefire and demanding an investigation of the death squad terror in return. Private detective Werner Mauss told the magazine that “all decisions taken by the Catholic Church were agreed with the Bonn government. Mauss, who was arrested in 1996 whilst trying to free a German hostage and imprisoned for nine months on charges of supporting the ELN, had already brought six ELN leaders to a meeting with the Peace Council presided over by Bishop Karl Lehmann in Mainz. Mauss said that whilst in prison he had heard the screams of torture victims and been afraid that paramilitary groups opposed to the reconciliation efforts might send hired killers for him.
The ELN is the second largest of the country’s guerrilla groups, however, the larger of the revolutionary armies, the FARC have also indicated a wish to hold talks with newly elected president Andrés Pastrana who is due to take up office on August 7. On Wednesday, however, Pastrana warned of exaggerated expectations: After 34 years of civil war, peace “would not be achieved from one day to the next.”