Columbian Church Fights National Scourge of Kidnappings

Bishops Stress that ” Life Must Be Respected and Defended”

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BOGOTA, COLUMBIA, NOV. 15, 2002 ( “Life and liberty can neither be bought nor sold and, therefore, neither exchanged nor negotiated,” says Bishop Ivan Marin of Popayán, on behalf of all the Columbian bishops.

Bishop Ivan Marin asserted that the value of human “life must be respected and defended… not only in regard to the Bishop of Zipaquirá, but for all the kidnapped,” Colombian newspaper “El Tiempo” reported.

Bishop German Garcia Isaza of Apartadó, Columbia, also added that “no member of the Church, nor any human being, can be exchanged; they are not merchandise over which one can negotiate.”

The abduction of Bishop Jorge Enrique Jiménez Carvajal, president of the Latin American Episcopal Council (CELAM), and of Fr. Desiderio Orjuela, parish priest of Pacho, reopened the issue of exchanges proposed by the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC), regarded by the authorities as responsible for the kidnappings. Bishop Jiménez and Fr. Orjuela were freed this afternoon by a Columbian military operation.

Bishop Jiminez and Fr. Orjuela are not the only recent victims of kidnapping. Columbia has the highest rate of kidnappings in the world; in 2001 alone, over half of the kidnappings worldwide took place in Columbia.

“It is necessary to find formulas for humanitarian agreements that will result in the freedom of all the kidnapped. I think that the government and FARC can find ways to come closer,” Bishop Nel Beltrán Santamaría of Sincelejo said.

In regard to that possibility, several senators who met on Tuesday with Colombian president Álvaro Uribe Vélez said that the government took an important step by not requesting as a prior condition that the insurgents cease hostilities.

“A door has opened so that a humanitarian agreement can be reached. The next move is in the hands of the insurgents,” president of the Colombian Senate, Luis Alfredo Ramos, said.

The government has insisted that the U.N. be the valid intermediary for this agreement, but the rebels have demanded direct talks, without intermediaries. Although the State is willing to negotiate a humanitarian agreement, the guerrillas want a law of permanent exchanges.

Both the government and the army point out that exchange would imply recognition of FARC, encourage further kidnappings, and inflict a moral blow to forces of public order.

For their part, lawmakers have requested that the eventual humanitarian agreement allow for the release of all prisoners and that the guerrillas commit themselves to halt the kidnappings, but FARC has given no guarantees that it will assume this commitment.

The government believes that an eventual humanitarian agreement will lead to the release of all civilians, military men, and policemen held by FARC, estimated to be more than 3,000. Even so, the guerrilla command has only mentioned the possibility of releasing 47 officers and sub-officers of the forces of public order and 24 politicians, among whom is ecologist and former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt.

The insurgent leaders go on to call for the release of all their imprisoned men, while the State points out that only those who have not committed “crimes against humanity” will be released.

Some parliamentarians urge that rebels released from prison be sent to another country, “so that they will not continue to strengthen the rebel war in Colombia,” while insurgents insist on the creation of a de-militarized zone in the country, a notion categorically rejected by Colombian president Uribe.

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