Former Marylander kidnapped by rebels is freed in Colombia

Woman and husband were taken Sunday in Cali

dozens still held

September 19, 2000|By Jay Hancock | Jay Hancock,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - A former Baltimore-area resident who was one of several dozen people kidnapped Sunday in Colombia was released yesterday, but many of the others were still being held by suspected Marxist rebels in the countryside, local authorities said.

The woman, Elena de Lima, who grew up in Timonium as Ellen Gould and married a Colombian physician working in Baltimore at what was then University Hospital, has lived in Colombia for more than 30 years but is still a U.S. citizen.

She and her husband, Dr. Eduardo de Lima, were among at least 40 people kidnapped by gunmen from a residence and two restaurants outside Cali, Colombia's third-largest city. The de Limas are among about 15 hostages who have been released.

In an interview with Caracol radio after her release, Elena de Lima said she had been told to deliver the kidnappers' ransom demands to the relatives of those still being held.

"I give my thanks to God," she said. "They let me take over the case of my brother-in-law."

As of late yesterday, the kidnappers were still holding Eduardo de Lima's sister and nephew, and at least 25 others.

Relatives in the United States say they believe the de Limas and at least some of the others abducted had been selected by the kidnappers because of their connection to Eduardo de Lima's brother, Ernesto.

As owner of the prominent De Lima Insurance Co., Ernesto de Lima is the kind of prosperous businessman frequently targeted for extortion by Colombian guerrilla groups seeking easy revenue.

"We're all very concerned about them - not just Ellen, but I guess about 30 or 40 people were kidnapped," said David Luria, a cousin of the de Limas who lives in Washington.

The kidnapping Sunday - the biggest mass-abduction in Colombia this year - occurred after heavily armed guerrillas of the Marxist National Liberation Army (known as ELN) blocked the roads near Cali, in southwest Colombia. About 50 guerrillas also stormed two restaurants outside Cali and abducted dozens of diners.

Yesterday, Colombian authorities mounted an intensive effort to rescue the hostages that included armed helicopters.

Eduardo de Lima, a gastroenterologist, was released late Sunday. Relatives in the United States said he was freed after the kidnappers learned that he had a heart condition. Eduardo de Lima is in his 60s, his wife in her 50s, relatives said.

Colombia is rife with kidnappings, mainly because ELN and another rebel group, FARC, finance their insurgencies, in part, with ransom money. Eduardo and Elena de Lima were aware of the risk and sometimes spoke of it, said her brother, John Gould of Towson.

Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

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