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Kidnapped journalist in ELN hands, according to captured guerrilla; press freedom organisations demand his release

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is a 5 June 2008 IFJ press release:

Press freedom and journalists' organisations demand ELN release journalist kidnapped 109 days ago

IFJ's Solidarity Centre, the Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa (FLIP), the Colombian Federation of Journalists (Federación Colombiana de Periodistas, FECOLPER) and its affiliate, the Guajira Journalists' Circle (Círculo de Periodistas de la Guajira), demand that the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional, ELN) guerrilla group immediately release journalist Mario Alfonso Puello.

As will be recalled, Puello's abduction occurred when he was travelling with various people involved in the National Open and Distance University (Universidad Nacional Abierta y a Distancia, UNAD) literacy programme for adult indigenous people, in which he participated. The day of the kidnapping he was both covering the literacy day and also acting as a member of a university commission. He and his travelling companions were on the Santa Marta-Riohacha highway, 35 kilometres from Santa Marta, when they were forced by ELN guerrillas to stop at an illegal checkpoint the group had set up, on 17 February 2008.

Puello and three others, including UNAD rector Aldo Brito Carrillo, were obliged to get out of the vehicle and were immediately detained by unidentified individuals, who took them away on foot. Brito managed to break away after they had proceeded 300 meters.

On 2 June, National Army troops captured 22-year-old Manuel de Jesús Bonet de la Rosa, a seven-year member of the ELN, who reported that those kidnapped were alive and in the hands of the ELN's Domingo Barrios Front. Bonet de la Rosa, during his trial for rebellion, testified that both Puello and his companions are thin due to the ELN's difficulties in obtaining provisions in the midst of constant army operations.

Puello, a father of 10 and a FECOLPER member, is a veteran reporter who customarily works on social issues; for that reason, he was involved in the UNAD literacy programme, among other projects.

The Guajira Journalists' Circle and FECOLPER held two demonstrations demanding Puello's release, in Riohacha and Cartagena. Similarly, press freedom organisations have appealed to national and international legal bodies to seek the release of those kidnapped.

Eduardo Márquez, director of the IFJ Solidarity Centre and FECOLPER's president, called upon all of IFJ's associations and unions in 120 countries, as well as all FECOLPER affiliates, to condemn the ELN's kidnapping of Puello and to demand his immediate and unconditional release.

Márquez also asked the defence minister and the army officers and soldiers combating the ELN to be cautious in order not to put Puello or his companions' lives in danger.

Betty Martínez, president of the Guajira Journalists' Circle, called for Puello's life to be respected, and for his return unharmed.

FECOLPER represents over 1100 journalists in 19 departments throughout Colombia. IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries.

Updates the Puello case: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/91222

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