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| 10/25/2011 12:00:00 AM

Who kidnapped Nhora Valentina?

Although the kidnapping of the little girl in the Arauca department had a happy ending, the episode left many doubts. The FARC are not the only responsible.

Few times a kidnapping in Colombia, where the crime became an epidemic a decade ago, has shocked the country as the one against Nhora Valentina Muñoz, a 10 year old girl, daughter of Jorge Muñoz, the Mayor of Fortul located in the department of Arauca. During this time the people sent expressions of solidarity to her family and the media reported every little aspect of the drama until October 17 when the kidnappers released her.

However, the episode has an aura of mystery. The calm of her parents during her kidnapping and Nhora Valentina's tranquility when she was freed, raised several questions. SEMANA investigated step by step with the authorities following the case and this is what was found.

On the morning of September 29 her mother, Pilar Gutierrez, took Nohora to school on her motorcycle when they were intercepted by men and forced to get into a vehicle. According to the story of the mother, the kidnappers left her in a place about two miles from town, gave her a cell phone SIM card and ten dollars to take a bus back to Fortul.

An hour later, the mother could return to the municipality and she gave the terrible news to her husband, the Mayor Jorge Muñoz, and to the authorities.

Within 24 hours Arauca was filled with domestic and foreign reporters, that broadcast live interviews with Nohora parents, her friends and even her grandparents that reside in the city of Barranquilla. All urgently demanded the release of the child.

They were followed by Catholic Church leaders, government officials, the President Juan Manuel Santos and even the Vatican. Fortul habitants marched with white flags, as the government announced a reward of 750.000 dollars for any information leading to the girl. Mayor Muñoz insisted that he didn't knew who was responsible for the kidnapping of her daughter.

Meanwhile, the government put a select group of Gaula, a police unity specialized in the fight against kidnapping, in charge of the case. It also ordered hundreds of soldiers from different battalions to look every inch of the region in search of the child.

An earlier version said that the ELN guerrillas operating in the area, was responsible for the kidnapping. However, on October 8 a video was revealed in which a man, claiming to be from that group, denied responsibility for the crime, and instead, blamed the FARC. Four days later, the 10 Front of the FARC issued another statement saying they didn’t have her either.

The researchers thought that the statement of the FARC was very accurate to say that the 10 Front had not kidnapped the girl, but did not speak of the whole guerrilla group. At the time, they got another clue: a conversation between the ELN guerrillas who talked about "taking away the girl of the FARC in order to return her to her family and in this way earn points with the public". That made them think that another Front of the FARC could have the girl.

"In order to kidnap someone in the town it is necessary to have people that take the victim from Fortul to the guerrilla camp" told an investigator to SEMANA. So they deduced, then, that those who carried out the kidnapping in the town were aware of the routines of the mother and child, and may even known them. That led the investigators to suspect of people who work with the Mayor and others close to the family.

At the end of the second week, the researchers established that in the early days of the kidnapping Nohora had been in a rustic house near Fortul, later she was delivered to the guerrillas, and changed three times of guerrilla bases, because of the military and police deployment increased significantly at that time.

By October 14, the Gaula managed to record a conversation between alias Ricardo of 54 Front of FARC, with an acquaintance of the Muñoz family where it was clear that he was the one who had given the girl to the guerrilla. In this talk the man who refers to the girl as "load", tells the guerrilla that he is concerned about the deployment of soldiers.

In a second conversation intercepted by the Gaula, alias David of 10 Front, claims to alias Germán of 54 Front, about the kidnapping. That is how the police found the camp site where the girl was held captive. Twenty men of an elite group planned the Fatima Operation to rescue the child. However, the next day, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which for days had been mediating for the release of Nohora reported that the kidnappers had demanded the suspension of operations and the clearance of 30 square kilometers for ten hours to release the girl and handing it to a committee of the ICRC. President Santos agreed the request.

However, the deadline required by the guerrillas, the minor didn't appeared. Researchers say that these hours were used to move her. Then Fatima Operation was reactivated. The researchers said to SEMANA that they had already located the new place where Nhora was been held. On Sunday 16, guerrillas left the girl in the place where they had her and some peasants found her and handed her to the Red Cross. On Monday, finally she returned home.

The Gaula arrived at the scene within hours. The clues they found where she was kept, are going to help them discover who were the accomplices of the FARC's in the kidnapping. There were jars of jams that Nohora used to eat at home, a fact that only someone close could know. They found also drawings of the girl, insect repellent and plenty of food. All this suggested that the kidnappers wanted to treat her well and were prepared to keep her captive for at least a month.

Although the criminal investigation is ongoing, the researchers say that the Front 54 of the FARC acted with the complicity of one or several people close to the family, as well as officials working with the father. The General Prosecutor Alejandro Ordonez, said last Tuesday, a day after liberation, that: "If there are any responsibilities and links to public employees in the execution of such a macabre behavior, we will investigate it".
And although the case had a happy ending, it is essential to clarify who were those people close to the family and to the City Hall that participate in such an evil crime.
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