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3 diplomats killed Costa Rica hostage drama
Updated: 2004-07-29 11:02

Costa Rica and Chile joined in mourning three Chilean diplomats slain a day earlier by a Costa Rican police officer who shot them point blank, then turned the gun on himself while seven other embassy employees cowered in an office nearby.

Guillermo Yunge, Chile's Ambassador in Costa Rica comforts the wife of Roberto Nieto, one of three killed inside the Chilean Embassy, during a funeral mass service in the Metropolitan Cathedral in San Jose July 28, 2004. [Reuters]

The officer, who had been on security detail at the Chilean Embassy in San Jose for two years, was apparently mentally deranged, officials said.

"My sorrow is great. These things affect me deeply, and when it happens to a beloved nation like Chile, even more so," Costa Rican President Abel Pacheco said, declaring three days of national mourning in his Central American nation.

Prior to the incident the perpetrator, Orlando Jimenez, had been "an exemplary citizen" who must have been driven to commit the crime by sudden psychosis, Pacheco said. He added that Chilean President Ricardo Lagos had been "understanding" about the incident.

Lagos for his part declared two days of mourning in his country and proclaimed that Chile had lost "three upstanding young civil servants."

"It's sad for Chile and for the foreign service," Lagos told reporters at La Moneda presidential palace in Santiago. "It can only be explained as the madness of a person who lost his mental faculties."

"This incident does not reflect on Costa Rica. Costa Rica is a peaceful country, a serene country," Lagos said.

Costa Rican police officer takes cover during a hostage taking at Chilean Embassy in San Jose, July 27, 2004. A Costa Rican police officer stationed as a guard at Chile's Embassy took 8 hostages inside the building. [Reuters]

The incident unfolded over more than six hours late Tuesday after Jimenez was informed that he was being transferred to another post. But his motives or demands were never made clear, officials said.

A police official had called Jimenez Tuesday to tell him that he would be transferred to another position after two years at the embassy at the request of First Secretary Roberto Nieto, who became one of his victims, Costa Rican Security Minister Rogelio Ramos said.

The transfer request "is something we consider normal. The diplomat gave no evidence of fault in the work of this person, just simply that it seemed time for a change," Ramos said.

His transfer did not involve a demotion, Ramos insisted. Jimenez probably faced "a worse situation from the mental point of view."

Police and Red Cross officials who interviewed survivors said Jimenez entered the embassy at the unusual time of 3:30 pm (2130 GMT), walked directly to the office where Nieto, Second Secretary and Consul Cristian Yussef and Cultural Attache Rocio Sariego were, and shot them point-blank.

Seven other embassy staff members, five Chileans and two Costa Ricans, barricaded themselves in an office. Jimenez shot at the door of that office and later shot himself in the chin. But, police said, he did not die immediately and remained conscious and bleeding for several hours.

Some 200 heavily armed police officers quickly surrounded the diplomatic compound, located in the eastern part of San Jose. At around 10:00 pm (0200 GMT Wednesday), they stormed the embassy, without firing a shot.

"When we went in we found three people killed as well as the police officer," Ramos said late Tuesday. "When the police went in not a single shot was fired. The (hostage-taker) had shot himself."

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