Magazine article Anglican Journal

Colleagues Fear for Safety of Aid Workers

Magazine article Anglican Journal

Colleagues Fear for Safety of Aid Workers

Article excerpt

Toronto

Eleanor Douglas boarded a plane to Colombia Feb. 2 fearing for the safety of four kidnapped friends and the collapse of the peace process aimed at ending the bloody 34-year-old civil war.

"These people are my friends," said Ms. Douglas, development coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean for the Primate's World Relief Development Fund. "I've worked with them a lot." The four human rights workers - Jairo Bedoya, Olga Rodas, Jorge Salazar and Claudia Tamayo - were taken from their office in Medellin Jan. 28 by Colombia's most feared paramilitary group. Their abduction came a day after two workers from another Colombian human rights organization were hauled off a bus and killed.

Ms. Douglas, who lived in Colombia for 20 years before returning to Canada less than three years ago, is a member of the board of directors of the Medellin-based Popular Training Institute, where the four worked. The United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC), the paramilitary group headed by warlord Carlos Castano, said Feb. 4 it would free two of the human rights workers but hold the other two as "prisoners of war." It accused the pair of belonging to leftist guerrilla groups.

"I know the people very well and I know they're not rebel sympathizers," said Ms. Douglas in a Journal interview before leaving for Colombia. "In fact this organization has gone to extreme lengths to publicly declare itself non-violent." She noted that part of the work of the IPC involves teaching children conflict resolution in schools.

A non-governmental organization, the IPC is a well-respected human rights monitoring organization in Colombia's Antioquia state. Last year the office prepared detailed maps "showing exactly where the guerrilla groups and the paramilitary groups are located," said Ms. Douglas. One of those kidnapped, Claudia Tamayo, municipal program director for the IPC, took part in a seminar in Sherbrooke, Que., last fall and visited with church groups in Ottawa and Toronto. Her whereabouts and those of the other three were unknown.

Last May, Ms. Douglas, a former chair of CUSO, was sent to Colombia as an Anglican Church representative on the Inter-Church Committee on Human Rights in Latin America after soldiers raided the offices of the Inter-Congregational Commission for Justice and Peace. They carted away files and examined computer databases while forcing Roman Catholic nuns and lay staff to kneel. …

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