By Michael Ireland
Chief Correspondent, ASSIST News Service
September 8, 2004
OBRERO, PUERTO ASIS, COLOMBIA (ANS) -- Three people were killed and 14 seriously injured on September 4 when masked men opened fire on a church in southern Colombia during a prayer service, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reports.
The gunmen attacked the Christian and Missionary Alliance church of about 45 people in Obrero, Puerto Asis, with automatic weapons.
News agency Compass Direct reports that the pastor, Francisco Sevillano, told the Bogota newspaper el Tiempo: "Three men wearing black hoods came in shooting. People started running around everywhere, not knowing what to do."
Two children, aged 7 and 11 were among those injured. The area was in almost total darkness as there is no electricity in this impoverished community.
News reports offer conflicting explanations as to who was responsible or why they attacked the church. Some indicate that right-wing paramilitaries were likely to have been responsible as this is an area with heavy paramilitary presence. Others say that pamphlets from the left-wing guerrilla group, FARC, were left outside that declared a new offensive in the region.
The reason behind the attack is also unclear with one report suggesting that Jorge Arnulfo Santamaria Montoya, a retired policeman and a local council member, was the target. He suffered multiple bullet wounds and was transferred to a hospital in a larger city because of the gravity of his injuries. He had survived two previous assassination attempts.
Regardless of where the responsibility lies, CSW “emphatically denounces the attack on the church at a time when people were gathered together to pray and worship.”
Alexa Papadouris, CSW's Advocacy Director, said: "This demonstrates the total lack of respect that all the armed groups show towards the sanctity of a place of worship and of the innocent civilians, particularly children, that gather there. If the armed groups want to be taken seriously by the world as legitimate players in the political process they must begin by respecting the neutrality of civilians and their basic right to life."
CSW has asked supporters to pray for the families of those who were killed and for those who are still struggling for life in hospitals across the country. CSW has also given supporters the address of the Pastor for supporters to write to.
Some 25,000 to 30,000 people are killed each year in the violence which affects Colombia. This equates to a murder due to political violence approximately every 20 minutes of every day.
Christians, both Roman Catholics and Protestants, and especially those involved with peace initiatives or helping those who would flee the violence, are particularly at risk. More than 40 evangelical leaders were assassinated in 2003.
Armed groups have shut down more than 400 churches, burned Bibles, forbidden Christians from meeting and have driven church leaders from their homes. Some 120 or more Christian leaders have been assassinated in the last few years.
It is estimated that up to four million people have been displaced from their home areas by the violence.
The names of those killed: Adalberto Benavides, Heraldo Guevara, María Lidia Martínez de Zambrano.
The names of those seriously wounded: Guadalupe Quijano, Yeni Cabrera, Elvia Cabrera, Leonel Raigosa, Sandra Barco, Oscar Luis Martínez, Andrés Ortega, Gerson Chaves, Giovanny Ramos Hernández, Pablo Campo Hernández, Jorge Arnulfo Santamaria Montoya, and an unidentified woman aged 22. Two minors, aged 7 and 11, whose names have not been released.