FILE ID:95062202.POL




(Nigeria, Colombia/missionaries) (640)

NEWS BRIEFING -- Spokesman Nicholas Burns discussed the following



The spokesman said the United States has "very great concerns about

the welfare" of the former president of Nigeria, General Olusegun

Obasanjo. "We understand he is under detention," he said.

Last week, the State Department said Obasanjo had been picked up June

13 by agents of the Directorate of Military Intelligence and taken to

an undisclosed destination. He has not been seen in public since then.

Obasanjo had been under house arrest for the previous two months, but

no specific charges against him had been made public.

Burns said he was not aware of reports that Obasanjo had been put on

trial June 22 in Lagos, but he emphasized that "if he has been brought

to trial today, it leads to further concern on our part about the

activities of the regime in Lagos."

The United States has made very clear its opposition to the Nigerian

regime's detention and arrest -- without trial in some cases and

without charges in some cases -- of leading members of former Nigerian

governments, the spokesman said.

"We call upon the government of Nigeria to take every step necessary

to release the people under detention who are clearly -- many of them

-- innocent of any wrongdoing," he said, "and to bring those that it

feels it has charges against to justice in a way that is consistent

with international norms.

"We've made our views clear about this in public because Nigeria is

one of Africa's most important countries, and we have a great concern

about the welfare of people who have been responsible leaders in the

past. We think the future ought to be based on reform and the rule of

law and not based on the current practices of the current regime."

The United States has repeatedly urged authorities in Lagos to return

Nigeria rapidly to democratic, civilian government.


Officials of the New Tribes Mission, a missionary group which has had

several of its members taken captive in Colombia, have positively

identified the two victims of a June 19 confrontation between

Colombian Army troops and guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces

of Colombia, the spokesman said.

"We deeply regret the deaths of Timothy Van Dyke and Steven Welsh, two

American citizens, and extend our deepest sympathy to their families

and to their colleagues in the New Tribes Mission," Burns said. "This

was a senseless killing of innocent civilians -- senseless and


He noted that the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia is a

terrorist group.

Colombian President Ernesto Samper called U.S. Ambassador Myles

Frechette on June 21 to express his condolences and to offer the

government of Colombia's assistance, the spokesman said.

"We are aware that five other Americans are being held captive in

Colombia and three of those being held are with the New Tribes

Mission," Burns said. "We certainly are asking the government of

Colombia to do everything in its power to find the American citizens

and to have them released," he said.

In the past, rebels from the National Army of Liberation as well as

the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia have conducted a series of

kidnappings of American citizens. "We can't confirm which group or

groups may be responsible for the kidnappings of these five other

Americans," Burns said. "It's our great hope that they are alive and

that they will be released."

"The killings that took place on June 19 were senseless and we condemn

them and we obviously hope that the Colombian government will bring

these killers to justice," he said. "We are working very closely with

the government of Colombia, and we believe we're getting good