BOGOTA, COLOMBIA, SEPT. 20 -- The Medellin cocaine cartel said today it had kidnapped a prominent journalist, a member of a leading political family, and the daughter of a former president in an attempt to force the government into negotiations over the traffickers' demands.
The El Tiempo newspaper, whose managing editor, Francisco Santos, was kidnapped Wednesday night, said in a statement that the cartel had telephoned the editors to take responsibility for the three kidnappings and had read a communique.
According to the statement, cartel leaders who call themselves the "Extraditables," also rejected a recent government offer to not extradite to the United States traffickers who turn themselves in and confess their past crimes.
While newly elected President Cesar Gaviria made that offer, he has emphasized that he would not negotiate with the drug barons under any circumstances. He also has warned that if the cartel returned to terrorist tactics, which it recently suspended, he could rescind the offer on extradition.
"Not one, absolutely not one of us will turn ourselves in," El Tiempo quoted the Extraditables as saying. The cartel demanded "political treatment" similar to the negotiations underway with leftist rebel groups, not treatment as criminals.
The Extraditables placed no specific conditions or timetables for the release of the victims, El Tiempo said, but declared they were awaiting instructions from cartel leader Pablo Escobar "via fax from someplace in Central America."
Authorities said they do not believe Escobar has left the country. They said they had uncovered plans in Bogota, Medellin and Cali to kidnap other prominent personalities.
The Extraditables said they had paid members of the Marxist National Army of Liberation to carry out the abductions.
Santos, 28, managing editor and political columnist for El Tiempo, was taken from his armored jeep at about 7:30 p.m. Wednesday by three men who showed him police identification and asked him to get out, according to witnesses. His driver, who tried to shoot the attackers when it became clear it was a kidnapping, was shot dead.
Members of the Santos family are leaders of the governing Liberal Party and they own the newspaper. Francisco's father, Hernando, is the publisher.
An hour earlier, gunmen had forced Marina Montoya Perez to leave a restaurant at gunpoint and get into a waiting car. Montoya de Perez is the sister of German Montoya, who was former president Virgilio Barco's general secretary and is now ambassador to Canada.
The third person being held is Diana Turbay, a journalist who is the daughter of former president Julio Cesar Turbay. Turbay and five other journalists left Bogota Aug. 30 to interview a guerrilla group and none has been seen since.
The kidnappings came as Colombia was living through a period of relative peace. In their statment to the newspaper, the Extraditables said they were not weakened, and said the recent peace was "not due to anything that Gaviria has done, but what we have stopped doing."
The cartel declared a unilateral truce on July 27, suspending its year-long campaign of police assassinations and car bombs, which claimed more than 1,000 lives. Last December, the cartel kidnapped the relatives of several prominent citizens, and then released them three weeks later with a peace proposal.
On Tuesday, Jaime Rueda Rocha, the prime suspect in assassination of presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galan a year ago, escaped from the nation's maximum-security prison.
Authorities say that Rueda Rocha was given a false beard by a lawyer who visited him. Disguised, and with the apparent complicity of some prison guards, he walked out the front door to freedom. The prison director and 18 guards have been suspended pending a criminal investigation.
Also Tuesday, a judge freed five alleged collaborators of Medellin cartel leader Escobar. The five were arrested in July on one of Escobar's farms and were said by police to be part the cartel chieftain's principal security advisers.