Colombian Guerrillas Release Kidnapped Priest

Helped Lead a Peace March; 2 Captives Still Held

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BOGOTA, Colombia, APRIL 23, 2002 ( A priest kidnapped last weekend by a guerrilla group was released Monday by his captors.

His companions in captivity, including a governor and former Cabinet member, are still being held hostage.

Father Carlos Yepes was kidnapped Sunday along with Guillermo Gaviria, governor of the department of Antioquia, and Gilberto Echeverry, former Defense Minister.

The Colombian Armed Revolutionary Forces (FARC) took the men hostage, as they led 1,200 people in a peace march toward the municipality of Caicedo, in Antioquia, some 400 kilometers (250 miles) northwest of Bogota.

At the governor´s request, the march was not supervised either by the army or the police.

According to local authorities, the guerrillas intercepted the marchers about 3 kilometers from Caicedo. The guerrillas demanded that a commission, composed of Father Yepes, Gaviria, Echeverry, three Catholic bishops and a U.S. humanitarian leader, go speak with a rebel chief if they wished to complete the march.

The prelates included Bishop José Ignacio Aristizábal of Santa Fe de Antioquia; Auxiliary Bishop Jorge Iván Castaño Rubio of Medellin; and Bishop Jairo Jaramillo of the Diocese of Santa Rosa de los Osos. The other member of the commission was Bernard Lafayette, representative of the Center for Non-Violence and Peace Studies at the University of Rhode Island.

After several hours of talks, the guerrillas released the bishops and Lafayette. But they held the priest, the governor and the former Defense Minister hostage, “to discuss some topics at greater length.”

Following the priest´s release, police took him to Medellin, a source in the Antioquia government said.

Governor Gaviria wrote a letter April 16 saying that, should he be kidnapped, no concessions should be made for his release.

“My wish in case of a kidnapping is that the country not accept any kind of concession by way of compensation to my captors for my release,” Gaviria wrote on the eve of the start of the five-day peace march, his spokesman said.

“The only reason that can mediate for my release, the only one that I would be prepared to accept, is that my captors finally understand the inalienable right to liberty that all human beings have,” the governor wrote, adding that if he was killed, “I will be praying for Colombia´s peace from heaven.”

Archbishop Isaías Duarte Cancino of Cali was killed March 16, and Father Juan Ramón Núñez was killed April 6 at a Mass in the southern village of La Argentina.

Dozens of priests in Colombia have been threatened with death by guerrilla and paramilitary groups. Some have left the country in recent days for safety. Drug traffickers resent their humanitarian and evangelizing work, and their opposition to violence and the drug trade.

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