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2003: Hostages freed by Colombian rebels

Five hostages, including a British TV producer, kidnapped in Colombia more than three months ago have been released by a group of leftist rebels.

The Briton, Mark Henderson, aged 32, and four young Israelis were taken captive by the National Liberation Army (ELN) on 12 September.

The Israelis were Beni Daniel, Ortaz Ohayon, Ido Yosef Guy and Erez Altawil, all in their twenties.

Their 102-day ordeal in the South American jungle came to an end when the rebels handed them over to mediators in the Sierra Nevada mountains.


"We literally were at breaking point, and he came up to me and said, 'Right, you are being released on Monday'"

Mark Henderson

The rebels said they had kidnapped the men to publicise the persecution of Indian villagers and massacres carried out by rightwing paramilitaries, and not for a ransom.

Senior clergy from the Roman Catholic Church in Colombia have spent a number of weeks negotiating the release of the five men.

One of the negotiators, Monsignor Hector Henao, said the men were freed in return for an investigation by the United Nations into the plight of the indigenous population.

Mr Henderson had been trekking near the 2,500-year-old Ciudad Perdida (Lost City) Indian ruins, when he and seven others were seized at gunpoint.

After 11 days, 19-year-old student Matthew Scott, from Clapham in south London, managed to escape from his captors.

He spent 12 days alone in the jungle until he was found by tribes people and flown back to Britain.

A German and a Spanish hostage were released in November.

'Very painful'

Mr Henderson said that over the last three months he and the other hostages had been forced to walk for up to 18 hours a day, across 500 miles of dense jungle, sleeping under strips of plastic and surviving mainly on rice.

The freelance television producer told a reporter: "I wouldn't say we had been treated badly. It's very painful, we didn't know what we were walking for."

He said he learned of his release four days ago: "One of the leaders of the ELN was with us. We literally were at breaking point, and he came up to me and said, 'Right, you are being released on Monday'."

Mr Henderson has telephoned his parents in Pateley Bridge in Yorkshire, where the parish church rung its bells in celebration, and told them: "I'm absolutely fine. About two stone lighter."

They have said his homecoming will be an "extra Christmas present".

His mother, Charelle, said: "It was lovely to hear his voice, he sounded extremely cheerful."

Mr Henderson will fly to the Colombian capital Bogota and then take a plane to Heathrow.

In Context
The National Liberation Army (ELN) is Colombia's second biggest rebel group, behind the Farc (or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia).

The ELN has been waging a war against the government since 1965 through hijackings, bombings, and extortion.

The group says it campaigns for better socio-economic justice and human rights.

But it is also one of the country's most prolific kidnap groups and figures from 2001 showed that it carried out more than 800 of about 3,000 kidnappings in Colombia that year.

Analysts believe it was the ELN's wish to be seen as the more acceptable face of Colombian rebel activity which led them to release Mark Henderson and the other hostages.

In June 2004, the government offered to stop its offensive - which, along with right-wing paramilitary activity, has hit the group hard in recent years - if the ELN agreed to a ceasefire.


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