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Congressional stance fuels hope of kidnapped missionary’s wife

WASHINGTON (BP)–“I feel like the U.S. government is more behind us now,” said Patti Tenenoff, wife of Rick Tenenoff, one of three New Tribes Mission missionaries kidnapped in January 1993.
Tenenoff’s hopeful comment was made after the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution aimed at speeding up the release of the New Tribes missionaries believed to be held hostage by rebel forces in Colombia. Tenenoff, Mark David Mankins and Mark Rich, kidnapped from their homes in a Kuna village in southern Panama, are believed to be the longest-held American hostages in Colombia.
Patti Tenenoff, who lives on the New Tribes campus near Camdenton, Mo., added, “I feel like (members of Congress) are now seeing my husband’s case as a legitimate situation to get involved in.”
The resolution calls for President Clinton and other U.S. officials to raise the issue of the kidnapping to foreign governments at every opportunity.
Scott Ross, New Tribes Mission attorney and crisis team member, commented, “When New Tribes Mission representatives go to different countries and can show we have the U.S. Congress behind us, it gives more legitimacy to foreign ministers and leaders. Anytime U.S. ambassadors have important meetings with foreign officials, they are now instructed to bring up our case.”
Ross said the next step is to try to arrange a meeting between New Tribes Mission representatives and Colombian President Pastrana while he is in Washington next month visiting President Clinton.
“That would elevate the issue in the media, and any media attention is felt by FARC, who is very sensitive to media,” Ross said. FARC, a Spanish acronym for Revolutionary Forces of Colombia, is the group believed to be holding the missionaries. “That would pressure the guerillas to sit down and talk with us.”
Ross noted that a meeting with President Pastrana could also encourage Pastrana in his peace initiatives with guerilla organizations in Colombia.
New Tribes Mission, based in Sanford, Fla., has not had any contact with the guerilla group since the early months after the kidnapping. “We are working very hard to renew our dialogue with the guerillas, and that will happen with the help of some of these high-level officials,” Ross said.
Although the mission and the wives remain optimistic based on some reports that the men are alive, there is no proof of their actual condition or whereabouts.
Rep. Roy Blunt, R.-Mo., introduced the resolution as a member of the House International Relations Committee.
“I have met with the families of these men, and their pain will continue until some real answers about the fate of their loved ones are provided,” Blunt said. “This resolution is the least that Congress and the president should do to find those answers.”
Blunt, former president of Southwest Baptist University, Bolivar, Mo., introduced the measure after a March 31 hearing where Dan Germann of New Tribes Mission and Tania Rich, wife of Mark Rich, testified about the kidnapping.
Former British envoy Terry Waite and American journalist Terry Anderson, who were held hostage in Lebanon for years, also have lent their support to the families and efforts to free the missionaries.

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  • Stacey Hamby