On Tuesday armed men dressed in civilian clothes kidnapped journalist Elida Parra and Gina Uribe, an environmental engineer, from their homes in Saravena, Aracua.
Both women had been doing contract work for the Bicentennial Oil Pipeline, the $4.2 billion construction project set to be Colombia’s longest pipeline, carrying crude oil along the Venezuelan border to Caribbean ports.
In the past week Arauca, long a hotbed of guerrilla activity due to its oil infrastructure, has seen an upsurge in violent attacks by both the FARC and the ELN. Guerrillas set fire to a transport truck outside a power plant in Tame on Tuesday morning, while police in Saraveno and Fortul suffered onslaughts from explosives and machine guns.
Different media outlets have blamed one of the country’s two largest guerrilla groups for the attacks–both are active in the area, so much so that the think tank Arco Iris describes rural Arauca as operating under a de facto ELN state.
But Arauca’s police chief said the ELN was behind Tuesday’s kidnappings because it has the strongest presence in the oil-rich department, after winning a bloody five-year war with the FARC for control of the area.
Colombia’s ombudsman called on the government to provide greater protection for those living and working near the pipeline, and said the recent violence was a violation of residents’ human rights. In a statement, the ombudsman also pointed to the nearby bombing of the Caño Limon-Coveñas pipeline in the towns of Cubara-Boyaca and Arauquita, where he said oil spilt from the explosion had contaminated the department of Boyoca’s water supply.
Parra’s husband, who left to run errands Tuesday and returned home to find the front door ajar and his wife missing, told the Colombian Federation of Journalists he’d contacted the International Committee of the Red Cross to arrange for Parra’s release. In 2011, the Red Cross facilitated the release of a 10-year-old girl kidnapped in Arauca by suspected members of the FARC.