John Paul II Grieves for 10 Hostages Killed in Colombia

Governor of Antioquia and a Former Defense Minister Among the Dead

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VATICAN CITY, MAY 6, 2003 ( John Paul II sent a message of condolence to Colombia when he heard of the deaths of a governor, former Defense Minister and eight other hostages during a failed rescue attempt.

The office of the Colombian president reported Monday that the bodies of Guillermo Gaviria, 41, governor of the department of Antioquia; former Defense Minister Gilberto Echeverri, 66; and eight military men were found in a jungle area of Murindo, 400 kilometers (250 miles) northwest of Bogota.

«Some of the hostages were found with a bullet in the back of the neck or behind the ear,» a statement from the president’s office revealed.

According to a telegram sent by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state, John Paul II «received with profound sorrow the sad news of the execrable attack» and «expresses once again staunch condemnation of the acts of terrorism that attack peaceful coexistence and offend the most profound sentiments of the human being.»

«While offering suffrage for the eternal rest of the deceased, His Holiness prays that God will grant his consolation and inspire sentiments of concord in all those who grieve over the tragic consequences of violence,» the papal message said.

The papal telegram also encourages «the Colombian people to continue on the way toward the longed for pacification.»

In a statement broadcast on Radio Caracol, FARC rebels reported that the hostages died during a rescue attempt by the army.

Some 3,000 people were kidnapped last year in Colombia, the highest number of any country.

Seventy percent of the kidnappings are attributed to FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the largest leftist guerrilla group in Latin America.

A 40-year insurgent campaign had led to thousands of deaths each year in Colombia.

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