Colombian Warns of Systematic Terrorism Against the Faith

Appeals to International Community for Help

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BOGOTA, Colombia, DEC. 6, 2002 ( Colombia seems to be facing «a direct attack against religious liberty,» its defense minister says.

In a letter to the Spanish newspaper El País published Thursday, Marta Lucía Ramírez de Rincón wrote that the Church «is one of our most respected and effective civil institutions, and must be protected as a symbol of faith and hope of all.»

She noted the recent kidnapping and subsequent release of Bishop Jorge Enrique Jiménez Carvajal, president of the Latin American bishops’ council. He had been held by the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC). His release was the success of the military forces and of Colombians themselves, the defense minister explained.

«He was one of the 523 victims released this year through operations against kidnapping in Colombia,» Ramírez de Rincón added.

She noted what she called a disconcerting development: The past 10 months has seen a 300% rise in violence against religious leaders. «This year alone, 14 religious leaders have been killed by terrorist groups in Colombia, primarily by FARC,» the official explained.

The tendency of «the attack against the faith and religion in Colombia, is reflected in the fact that over the past 40 years, a total of 38 religious leaders have been killed, 28% of whom died this year.»

She continued: «We cannot forget that the most infamous terrorist attack in the history of Colombia occurred only six months ago, when FARC threw a bomb against a church in Bojaya full of innocent civilians,» as well as three priests. That attack killed 119 people, mostly women and children.

To counteract this situation, the government has initiated a program of protection for priests and those who are directly threatened, Ramírez de Rincón said.

She mentioned the New Network of Citizen Cooperation. «This network was a determinant factor that led to the release of Bishop Jiménez and others since the beginning of the program on Aug. 11,» the defense minister continued.

However, in her letter, Ramírez de Rincón stresses the need to receive help and support from the international community.

In this connection, she explained that FARC, the leftist guerrilla National Liberation Army (ELN) and even the right-wing paramilitary United Self-Defense of Colombia (AUC) «have been able to exploit the professional neutrality of the diplomats and journalists when they pretended to offer an ideological alternative to democracy in Colombia.»

«The recent attacks against the Church are not isolated errors, but a coldly calculated campaign against the freedom of worship in Colombia, by criminal mafias masquerading as rebels,» the defense minister revealed.

According to her, the infrastructures and financial networks of these mafias are transnational and «many of them use bank accounts in Europe and the United States to negotiate rescues, launder money, and acquire armaments to carry out their acts of terror.»

«It is time to close down these criminal organizations and their networks and for the international community to treat these murderers of priests as enemies of freedom and humanity, which is what they really are,» the defense minister exhorted.

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