In a seeming bid for leverage in government peace talks, a Colombian rebel group created a national hostage crisis that instead has hurt its credibility and alienated Catholics and Protestants.
On May 30, about 30 members of the National Liberation Army (ELN), claiming to be soldiers evacuating the church because of a bomb scare, entered a Catholic church in an upscale neighborhood of Cali. The guerrillas, after tricking the worshipers into boarding trucks, took them as hostages. With government troops in pursuit, the guerrillas soon abandoned 84 hostages. But as of mid-June, more than 20 worshipers remained in rebel hands.
In a related incident on April 12, five ELN commandos posing as passengers skyjacked an Avianca flight from the eastern city of Bucaramanga to Bogota. They diverted the plane to an isolated area of northern Colombia, where they forced the 41 passengers into boats along a nearby river. The hostages included Grace Morillo, 29, a biologist and student worker with the InterVarsity-related Unidad Cristiana Universitaria (UCU). Morillo, who over sees UCU work in the Bogota area, taught part-time at El Bosque University to support her student ministry. She was one of nine passengers released on June 18.
Christian students in the UCU—active in 10 cities—mobilized to seek Morillo's release. They helped organize the hostages' relatives into a pressure and support group, leading marches in downtown Bogota.
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