Priest Killed in Colombia While Celebrating Mass

Suspicion Centers on Guerrillas

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BOGOTA, Colombia, APRIL 7, 2002 ( Gunmen burst into a Catholic church Saturday evening, killing the priest who was celebrating Mass.

Father Juan Ramón Núñez was slain in the southern village of La Argentina, in the department of Huila. A layman, Joaquín Quebrada, was also killed by the gunmen, the newspaper El Tiempo reported.

Preliminary police investigations point to guerrillas as possible suspects, the newspaper reports.

The priest was killed during the 7 p.m. Mass, one of the most crowded celebrations of the week, police said. The gunmen went up to the altar and shot the priest four times. Before leaving, they also shot Quebrada, who was attending the Mass, authorities said.

Shortly after, the police contacted Catholic bishops to see what security measures could be implemented in Huila to guarantee the life of priests threatened by the guerrillas.

The priest was killed less than three weeks days after the murder of Archbishop Isaías Duarte Cancino of Cali, amid growing threats against Catholic clergy. Colonel Jorge Iván Calderón Quintero, who is in charge of security for ecclesiastical authorities, recently published a list of 10 priests who are being threatened.

Today, meanwhile, two bombs exploded in the provincial capital of Villavicencio, killing 12 people and wounding dozens, the Associated Press reported. Police suspected the country´s main rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) was behind the attack, AP said.

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