WASHINGTON - Maryland relatives of a grandmother kidnapped by Marxist rebels in Colombia appealed yesterday to the U.S. government and the Red Cross for help in freeing her and her son from the abductors' mountain hideout
"My mother is 70 years old, and she has high blood pressure and so on," said Armando Sardi, a Baltimore-area physician whose mother, Norma Sardi, and brother, Rodrigo Sardi, were kidnapped Sunday by guerrillas. "Here they are taking a 70-year-old up in the mountains. It really goes against the idea of human rights" so often trumpeted by the rebels, he said.
The Sardis were among scores of people abducted by masked, camouflaged gunmen from the countryside around Cali, Colombia's third-largest city. Norma Sardi, who has several grandchildren, is a U.S. citizen whose father moved to Colombia from New York shortly after she was born, relatives said.
Rebel group blamed
Police blamed the National Liberation Army, a Marxist group known as the ELN that has a history of financing its insurgency through mass kidnappings and the resulting ransoms. Sunday's episode, which police said yesterday involved as many as 80 victims, represented the highest number of people abducted at one time this year.
The rebels had released about two dozen of their captives by Tuesday. But the plight of the remaining 50 or so continued to generate fear.
"I hope that they won't hurt her or push her beyond her capacities," said Elena de Lima, Norma Sardi's sister-in-law and one of the hostages released by the kidnappers earlier in the week. She spoke by telephone from Colombia.
Relatives contacted the Red Cross because it has a history of facilitating hostage releases in Colombia. Red Cross officials in that country could not be reached for comment yesterday.
No negotiating, U.S. says
While it monitors the situation closely when U.S. citizens are abducted, the U.S. government does not negotiate with terrorists or kidnappers, said a State Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Elena de Lima, a U.S. citizen who grew up in Baltimore as Ellen Gould, told a harrowing tale of Sunday's kidnapping, recounting abduction at gunpoint, a scary, high-speed trip to the mountains in the back of a pickup truck and a grueling march through the jungle.
Her ordeal began Sunday at 4 p.m. when gunmen wearing fake police badges burst in on a party at a country house owned by Norma Sardi and Orlando Sardi, de Lima's sister- and brother-in-law. About a dozen people were present, but the abducters took only four: Norma Sardi; her son Rodrigo, 42, an economist; Elena de Lima, 58; and her husband, Eduardo de Lima, 66, a doctor who met his wife more than three decades ago when he was on a medical fellowship in Baltimore.
Her chief concern was for her husband, who has had two open-heart surgeries and who was being prodded by rebels over slippery, stream-spanning logs and up steep mountain trails.
"I was so afraid," she said. "I was so worried for my husband. I was afraid he was going to die. I kept talking to the man that was leading us, saying, 'Please, don't go so fast.'"
Eduardo de Lima was released that evening, out of apparent concern for his health. Elena de Lima was let go Monday with a message from the kidnappers. "They just said ... 'We'll be in touch,'" presumably about the ransom, she said.