Colombian Bishop Released by Captors

In Good Health; Guerrillas Fail to Deliver a Message

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BOGOTA, Colombia, JULY 28, 2004 ( Colombian guerrillas released Bishop Misael Vacca Ramírez of Yopal but didn’t give him any message to deliver, as they had promised.

«They told me they were going to send a message to the government with me,» the prelate said after his four days of captivity. «But according to them, because of some operation, the person who was going to bring the message did not arrive.»

President Álvaro Uribe had ordered about 1,000 security personnel on a mission to rescue the bishop.

Bishop Vacca Ramírez had been kidnapped by the rebel National Liberation Army (ELN). After his release he arrived in Yopal in a military helicopter, with tears in his eyes but in good health.

«They treated me well, in a respectful manner,» said the bishop, who had to walk for hours through a mountainous region after his release. «I am very well. Thank God everything ended well.»

The faithful of Yopal, the bishop’s diocese, broke out in applause and expressions of gratitude when they learned of the prelate’s release.

Bishop Vacca Ramírez, 48, was fostering peace negotiations in the Casanare region, where for months paramilitary groups have been engaged in confrontations for control of extensive oil and agricultural fields. The clashes have left hundreds of people dead.

In addition to the paramilitary violence, Casanare is also suffering from the action of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the ELN, the country’s two main rebel groups.

The kidnapping shook this nation, which has been scourged by a four-decade insurgent campaign. The conflict has left 35,000 civilians dead in the last 10 years alone.

On Tuesday, John Paul II labeled the kidnapping a «criminal act, totally unjustifiable,» and appealed with firmness for «the immediate release of the prelate.»

In November 2002, FARC kidnapped Bishop Jorge Enrique Jiménez of Zipaquira, then president of the Latin American bishops’ council. He was rescued by the military forces after spending four days in captivity.

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