Wed, Jul 28, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Bishop snatched by rebels

AP , BOGOTA

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has ordered his troops to launch a rescue operation to find a Roman Catholic bishop being held by Marxist rebels in jungle-covered mountains.

Hundreds of counterinsurgency forces searched the northwestern Casanare region on Monday for signs of Misael Vacca Ramirez, the bishop of Yopal who was seized the day before by members of the National Liberation Army (ELN), the smaller of Colombia's two main rebel groups.

"Kidnapping is indefensible," Uribe told reporters. "He must be rescued, and I hope that he quickly regains his freedom."

Two priests and a local mayor who were with Vacca Ramirez at the time of the abduction said the rebels told them they wanted to give the bishop a message to deliver to authorities before setting him free.

"We were detained on Saturday by men in uniform who said they were from the ELN," Nunchia Mayor Jose del Carmen Galvis said on local radio. "They told us to wait because they needed the bishop, and on Sunday morning, two others came and carried him up into the mountains."

Vacca Ramirez had been involved in peace efforts between the government, leftist rebels and right-wing paramilitary groups battling for control of the oil-rich Casanare and Boyaca regions when he was abducted. Church leaders expressed dismay at the kidnapping, given that the bishop maintained a regular dialogue with the group to try to broker temporary truces or resolve disputes.

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