Colombia Hunts Kidnapped Cleric
Troops backed by helicopters launched a massive hunt Tuesday for a senior Roman Catholic bishop who was kidnapped by suspected leftist rebels as the church was again caught in the cross-fire of the country’s four-decade-long war.
Monday’s kidnapping of Msgr. Jorge Enrique Jimenez, president of the conference of Latin America’s Roman Catholic bishops, drew international condemnation, from the Vatican to the United Nations.
Pope John Paul II appealed to the kidnappers to free Jimenez, who was seized with another priest near Bogota, the capital, by suspected rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. The U.N. called the abductions “unacceptable.”
Jimenez, 60, is bishop of the colonial city of Zipaquira, about 30 miles north of Bogota, known for its subterranean cathedral carved out of salt.
The kidnappers’ motive was not immediately known, but in the past, Marxist rebels have held priests for short periods, later releasing them with messages or peace proposals.
The army has suggested that the FARC, which was thrown out of peace talks in February by former President Andres Pastrana, could add Jimenez to the list of high-profile kidnap victims that it wants to swap for jailed guerrillas. The list includes regional lawmakers, a former defense minister and a former presidential candidate.