Latin America & Caribbean

Paraguay's EPP rebels free two Mennonite hostages

The mother of Mennonite farmer Abraham Fehr, who was kidnapped by the Paraguayan People's Army (EPP) guerrilla in 2015 and presumably killed that same year, is seen outside the morgue in Asuncion on January 12, 2018 after his remains were found in a common grave in northern Paraguay Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Last month, Mennonites were told that the body of kidnapped farmer Abraham Fehr had been found

A Paraguayan guerrilla group has freed two Mennonite men it had been holding hostage for five months.

The two were released after their families paid a ransom and handed over food to local communities, Paraguayan media report.

They were abducted by the Paraguayan People's Army (EPP), a Marxist rebel group which has carried out a string of kidnappings and killings.

A third kidnapped Mennonite farmer was found dead in January.

The family of 36-year-old Abraham Fehr said they were not able to pay the $500,000 (£357,000) ransom the rebels had demanded after his kidnapping in August 2015.

His body was found in a grave in the north of the country. Forensic tests suggested he had died months after being taken. The cause of his death could not be established.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Abraham Fehr's wife was told her husband had been dead for two years

Freed following payment

The families of the two Mennonites freed on Monday, Bernhard Blatz and Franz Hiebert, reportedly paid $750,000 and $500,000 in ransoms.

They were found in a rural area by a farmer driving a tractor, the spokesman for the joint military and police task force Víctor Urdapilleta said.

Mennonite Christians settled in Paraguay in the first half of the 20th Century and have more recently been joined by Mennonites fleeing drug-related violence in Mexico.

Mr Hiebert, 32, is one of the Mexican Mennonites who settled in northern Paraguay.

The Mennonite community has become one of the main targets of the Paraguayan People's Army, which is thought to be trying to gain control of the area the Mennonites farm because it is a strategic route for marijuana smuggling, one of the rebels' main sources of income.

The Paraguayan authorities have long tried to defeat the EPP, which claims to fight against Paraguay's oligarchy and for the rights of country's poor.

The joint task force has further stepped up its efforts since the killing of eight soldiers in a rebel ambush in August 2016.

Paraguayan officials say the rebels are responsible for the killing of 21 military personnel, 13 police officers and 27 civilians since the group first emerged in 2008.

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