Colombia Backs Church Mediation With Guerrillas

Preliminary Talks Could End 40-Year Conflict

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BOGOTA, Colombia, AUG. 26, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Colombia’s president accepted the Catholic Church’s offer to mediate with leftist guerrilla armies to end the four-decade-old conflict that has crippled the country.

President Álvaro Uribe met on Monday with Archbishop Beniamino Stella, apostolic nuncio to Colombia, and Luis Carlos Restrepo Ramírez, high commissioner for peace, to discuss the offer made by Archbishop Luis Augusto Castro of Tunja over the weekend, reported Reuters.

Colombia’s episcopal conference confirmed Wednesday that the president has accepted the Church’s offer to set up preliminary talks with both the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN), the two main guerrilla armies.

The agreement comes a week after the killing of three priests by suspected Colombian guerrillas in two separate incidences.

The ELN apologized for the murder of two of these priests, saying it was an «error.»

True contrition

In statements to the media, President Uribe said: «If the ELN asks for forgiveness, let that forgiveness be true and let it make peace, because it cannot be that they kill, ask for forgiveness, and continue to kill.»

The Colombian president said that in the coming days a meeting will be held of representatives of the apostolic nunciature, the bishop’s conference and the minister of defense and high commands, to identify the areas in the country where priests need greater protection.

Uribe added that «the government accepts the effort the Church is making to engage in a pre-dialogue that will lead to the end of hostilities and this issue will continue to be examined by the high commissioner for peace and the governing body of the episcopal conference of Colombia.»

The president also spoke about the terrible attacks the Catholic Church as suffered because of the violence and terrorism in the country.

«From 1984 to date, five bishops have been kidnapped, one archbishop has been murdered, one bishop was kidnapped and later murdered, and several priests have been killed,» stated Uribe.

«Moreover, 71 parish houses and churches have been damaged or destroyed. The Church has suffered much by the actions of terrorism and the government will make every effort to improve her protection,» he said.

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