Thu, May 08, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Colombians mourn 10 slain hostages

ANGER AND GRIEF Ordinary people and relatives of the fallen have been moved by the fate of those killed by FARC rebels during a botched rescue effort

AP , MEDELLIN, COLOMBIA

Relatives and friends of slained Antioquia Governor Guillermo Gaviria (right portrait) gather for a mass in Medellin, Colombia on Tuesday. During a rescue attempt on Monday by special forces troops, leftist FARC rebels executed 10 hostages, including Gaviria, his peace adviser and former national defense minister Gilberto Echeverri (left portrait), and eight soldiers.

PHOTO: AFP

Hundreds of people in this central Colombian city so accustomed to violence gathered at the state government office to mourn the governor and a peace adviser, killed in an attempt to rescue them from rebel kidnappers.

Guerrillas from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, began shooting hostages as soon as they heard military helicopters overhead, one of the survivors said Tuesday.

Governor Guillermo Gaviria and his peace adviser, Gilberto Echeverri, and eight soldiers were killed before government troops arrived at the camp where they were being held.

Three other hostages survived the botched rescue, though two were injured.

"I am totally against rescues," said Luis Hernando Dugue, one of the hundreds of mourners gathered in the Antioquia state house waiting for Gaviria's body to be delivered to lie in state. "In this case, they didn't even consult the family."

Throughout Medellin, in corner stores and coffee shops, on street corners and in offices, the topic of conversation was the death of Gaviria and Echeverri, a former defense minister and also once governor of Antioquia state.

Street vendors and executives debated the wisdom of mounting rescue attempts, while everyone referred to the two as martyrs in Colombia's four-decade-old civil war.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe took responsibility for the failed raid, but Colombia's military commander vowed Tuesday to push ahead with more rescues.

Sargeant Pedro Guarnizo, the hostage who wasn't injured, met with Uribe Tuesday to describe his ordeal. He said that after the rebels shot most of the hostages, they started to flee their camp of thatched-roof huts, but a rebel commander ordered some to turn back to make sure everyone was dead.

"I stayed down, and prayed," Guarnizo told the president and local reporters, lying on the floor of the meeting room to demonstrate how he played dead as the rebels "re-killed" the hostages.

When the troops arrived a few minutes later, the rebels had fled. Guarnizo agreed to stay in the dense jungle region to help troops look for the rebels.

His decision to stay in the area delayed his return to his family, and his first meeting with his five-year-old daughter, born after he was kidnapped.

During his meeting with the president, Guarnizo wore a T-shirt with a picture of his daughter that his family had sent him in captivity. He wore the same shirt in a video the FARC released of the hostages several months ago.

The other two survivors suffered gunshot wounds. One of them said that he also played dead when the rebels returned.

"When three shots rang out, I threw myself to the ground and Gilberto [Echeverri] fell injured on top of me, and they shot him again and shot me in the leg," Hernandez told reporters from his hospital bed. "But since I didn't move, they thought I was dead."

Echeverri suffered three gunshot wounds, one in the back of the head, Attorney General Luis Camilo Osorio told reporters Tuesday.

Gaviria was shot five times in the back, once in a leg, and once in an arm, Osorio said.

Gaviria's wife tearfully blamed Uribe's government for the deaths. "The government provoked this situation," Yolanda Pinto said.

Pinto said the government didn't consult with her family before launching the operation.

"We had asked that the president communicate any decision to us, and he promised to do that. He didn't," Pinto said.

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