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'Terrific burden of violence'

International | Observers worry that new attacks in Colombia deliberately target Christians

Issue: "Wedgwood shooting," Oct. 2, 1999

in Cochabamba, Bolivia - Lilia Solano Gongora of the University Christian Union in Bogota thinks recent attacks on Christians in Colombia are not merely random acts of violence in the ongoing struggle between Marxist guerrillas and right-wing death squads, but purposeful attacks on Christians who are regarded as enemies by one side or another. "The thing that worries us so greatly is the introduction of the religious element as a justification for the violence," Mrs. Gongora said. "The guerrillas-as well as the paramilitary groups-have shown that they have evangelical people in their sights, precisely because of how we practice our faith. They allege that evangelicals have been planted in their zones of influence in order to help the counter-insurgency forces." The paramilitary squads have also targeted university students-Christians as well as nonbelievers. Convinced that student organizations are fertile recruiting ground for Marxists, right-wing forces launched a campaign to strangle student movements on campuses throughout Colombia. A recent communiqué published by the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia threatened with death seven students at the University of Antioquia. The notice read: "The hired thugs [expletive deleted] and Christian rabble rousers Gustavo Marulanda, Eder Navarro, Huber Garcia, Jorge Correa, Jorge Maldonado, Carmina Zapata, and Carlos Oliveros had better put on uniforms for war or die as civilians. You are hereby warned." The Spanish-language news service ALC reported that paramilitary groups murdered one student and kidnapped several professors at the University of Antioquia. In one positive development, guerrillas released evangelical pastor Hector Chavez unharmed after three weeks of captivity. Five masked men kidnapped Mr. Chavez from his home in Galindo on June 22 and demanded a $10,000 ransom. The guerrillas released him after an anonymous benefactor paid the gunmen $2,500. Mr. Chavez recounted that his abductors forced him to run into the jungle surrounding Galindo barefoot and dressed only in shorts. He was placed in an open thatched shelter, kept under constant surveillance, and given during those weeks only some plain rice. According to Jeannine Brabon, a former professor of Mr. Chavez's at the Biblical Seminary of Colombia, the young pastor told the guerrillas at one point to kill him because he did not think he could endure any longer. "Then he felt strangely strengthened," Ms. Brabon said. "Hector keenly felt the prevailing prayers of God's people worldwide." Remberto Barrios (of the Association of Evangelical Churches of Colombia who helped negotiate Mr. Chavez's release) reported that others' prayers made a difference. He said, "God carried me as well as Hector and we are deeply grateful to each one who interceded." Guerrillas also released Roman Catholic Bishop Jose de Jesus Quintero-held prisoner for 35 days-but only on the condition that he leave the area. Some fear the violence against Christians will intensify. "We are quite concerned, because the country is already under a terrific burden of violence," Lilia Solano Gongora said. "To add to that a religious war, if that is indeed what is coming, would bury us much further in an inferno of intolerance, death, and destruction."

-David Miller is a reporter for Compass Direct news service.

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