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Tuesday, March 28, 2017
Colombian hostage negotiator visits CAFOD
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 Mgr Héctor Fabio Henao, the Colombian kidnap negotiator who secured the release of British hostage Mark Henderson, is currently visiting CAFOD in London. Mark Henderson was one of eight people seized at gunpoint by National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas while trekking in the Sierra Nevada Mountains last September. Mgr Henao was the key negotiator who persuaded the ELN guerrillas to release the hostages for a dramatic Christmas reunion with their families. He is director of Caritas Colombia, the social action wing of the Catholic Church, and one of CAFOD's main partners in Colombia. In return for the release of the hostage, Mgr Henao promised the guerrillas to launch an investigation into human rights conditions in Sierra Nevada. Colombia is being torn apart by a war between guerrillas and the government, now joined by brutal paramilitary death squads murdering community leaders and claiming that they support the guerrillas. Mgr Henao says Sierra Nevada, an area about the size of Wales, is facing a crisis with horrendous human rights abuses being committed by both the guerrillas and paramilitary groups. He said: "People told us terrible stories about the crimes that have been committed. They told us about the ELN attacking the region's only hospital, killing a nurse. They told us about the paramilitaries murdering people while the government army did nothing to stop the violence. "Sick people cannot get medicine. It is difficult to get enough food to survive. People with extra food or with medicine are robbed by the paramilitaries. "The positive outcome for Colombia of the release of Mark Henderson and the other hostages has been a greater willingness by both sides to negotiate for peace. Although both the ELN and the government remain far apart, concrete steps forward have been made." The Caritas Colombia Director is in London to meet with members of the UK government, parliamentarians, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, and CAFOD staff. Foreign Office minister Bill Rammell MP thanked Mgr Henao for his work in freeing Mark Henderson and pledged British support in ending the crisis facing Colombia. Mgr Henao said: "Britain has strong business and political links with Colombia. The UK government can play an active role in the peace and reconciliation process in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and help tackle the region's poverty. This could open the door to peace talks with the ELN."
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