Colombia guerrillas free 12 after seizing power plant

BOGOTA, Colombia, AP

Leftist rebels freed 12 workers being held for ransom at a hydroelectric plant in Colombia, an army officer said on Sunday.

Rebels from the National Liberation Army, or ELN, released the workers in good health late Saturday, said army Maj. Carlos Martinez.

The rebels had seized the plant in Antioquia province on Friday. They demanded US$130,000 for their release but no ransom was paid.

The captive hydroelectric plant supplies energy to a nearby Frontino Gold Mine in the township of Segovia, 269 kilometers (167 miles) north of the capital Bogota.

The ELN, Colombia’s second largest rebel army, earns huge profits by abducting people for ransom. The 5,000-strong rebel group was responsible for most of the 3,700 abductions in Colombia last year.

The larger rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, meanwhile, attacked a small town in southern Colombia, destroying a police station and a jail, raiding a bank, and freeing dozens of prisoners in fighting that ended early Sunday.

Using homemade grenades and mortars, at least 250 FARC fighters attacked the township of Bolivar in Cauca province on Saturday, said Cauca Police Capt. Victor Aguero. During the 12-hour assault, the rebels freed 73 prisoners, 12 of whom later turned themselves in rather than risk being caught by military units heading to the area, said Oscar Galvis, a spokesperson for the nation’s prison system.

Aguero said the assault on the remote township, 440 kilometers (272 miles) from the capital Bogota, was eventually repelled by some 20 police officers with support from the air force. One policeman was injured.

In the northern Cesar province, FARC killed four soldiers and injured five others Saturday.

Meanwhile, the FARC on Sunday lashed out at a critical report issued earlier this month by Human Rights Watch, accusing the U.S.-based organization of kowtowing to Washington.

The monitoring group has also criticized a rival right-wing paramilitary army and the Colombian military for human rights violations.

In a communique read on Sunday, FARC spokesman Andres Paris compared the report to “the ships of Yankee interventionism disguised as humanitarian action” and a “wolf with sheep’s skin.”

“They are the latest turns that this non-governmental organization and its executive director are taking under Washington’s orders,” said Paris.

The report accused the guerrilla army of widespread abuses including kidnappings, recruitment of child soldiers, the use of indiscriminate weapons and the harsh treatment of war prisoners.

The Colombian military applauded the report, calling it a confirmation of the charges it has been making against the guerrillas for years.

The 16,000-strong rebel army and the government have been involved in slow-moving peace talks to end a 37-year armed conflict that kills some 3,000 people a year, mostly unarmed civilians.

Washington is providing the government millions of dollars in mostly military aid through a regional drug-fighting package that the rebel army says is nothing more than U.S. military intervention.