The New York Times
March 17, 2002

Pope Lauds Slain Colombian Archbishop


              BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) -- Slain Archbishop Isaias Duarte Cancino, who
              often criticized leftist rebels, ``paid the highest price'' for defending human life
              and opposing violence in this war-torn country, Pope John Paul II said

              The gray-haired, 63-year-old bespectacled archbishop had just completed a
              Saturday night group wedding and was heading to his car when he was shot
              by two gunmen outside the Buen Pastor church in a working-class
              neighborhood of Cali, witnesses said.

              ``I urge Colombians once again to follow the way of dialogue, excluding all
              types of violence, blackmail and kidnapping of people and to firmly commit
              themselves to what are the true roads of peace,'' the pope said during a
              speech at St. Peter's Square in Vatican City.

              The pontiff, who also said Duarte was ``brave in preaching the gospel,''
              named him archbishop in Cali, 185 miles southwest of Bogota, the capital, in
              August 1995.

              Duarte was dead on arrival at Carlos Holmes Trujillo Hospital, hospital
              director Ricardo Vanegas said. TV footage showed people weeping outside
              the hospital in Cali, Colombia's third-largest city.

              Edilberto Ceballos, Duarte's driver, told Caracol radio network that the
              archbishop was shot several times, including in the head.

              ``Two guys came and opened fire and hit him three or four times, maybe
              even six times,'' the driver said. ``I saw him dead.''

              No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.

              Hours after the attack Saturday night, electrical power went out in
              Colombia's three biggest cities -- Bogota, Medellin and Cali -- leaving
              millions of people in the dark. News reports said up to 70 percent of
              Colombia had suffered a blackout.

              Rebels have been attacking the nation's infrastructure, including blowing up
              electrical transmission towers, but Javier Gutierrez, the manager of the
              national electrical company ISSA, the massive outage was due to a technical
              problem and not a guerrilla attack.

              Duarte frequently criticized leftist rebels for their attacks and kidnappings.
              Colombia's 38-year-old civil war has intensified since peace talks with the
              main rebel army, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC,
              collapsed on Feb. 20.

              A smaller rebel group, the National Liberation Army, known as the ELN,
              also earned Duarte's ire for conducting mass kidnappings in Cali in recent
              years, including abducting worshippers at a Cali church. Although talks with
              the FARC collapsed, the ELN is participating in peace talks with Colombian
              government representatives in Havana.

              Duarte recently said publicly that money from drug traffickers was being
              used in the campaigns of some candidates in the March 10 congressional
              election. He did not name any specific candidates even though President
              Andres Pastrana urged him to.

              Drug traffickers have bloodied Colombia in the past. In the 1980s and
              1990s, the now-defunct Medellin cartel -- then the world's biggest
              cocaine-trafficking syndicate -- assassinated hundreds of people in a war of
              terrorism in Colombia.

              The archbishop of Bogota, Pedro Rubiano, said he was devastated by
              Duarte's killing.

              ``It is inconceivable that a good man, a man who dedicated his life to loving
              God and serving his brothers, has become a victim of the terrible violence
              which is ripping apart this country,'' Rubiano said.

              Alvaro Uribe, who is leading the polls ahead of the May 26 presidential
              election, said during a Cali campaign swing, ``The truth is that he is

              Colombia's war pits the FARC and the ELN against the government's armed
              forces and an illegal right-wing paramilitary group. About 3,500 people --
              most of them civilians -- are killed in the war annually.

              Paramilitary leader Carlos Castano said in a recent biography that he
              considered the archbishop ``a friend.'' Duarte reportedly was nervous about
              that description, since being identified too closely with one of the warring
              sides can make one a target. Duarte also criticized the paramilitaries for their
              brutal tactics.

              Duarte is not the first outspoken Roman Catholic bishop to die amid the
              throes of civil war in Latin America.

              El Salvador's Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero was assassinated by a
              sniper in March 1980, a day after delivering a sermon asking the military to
              halt its repressive tactics in El Salvador's civil war. A truth commission found
              evidence his killing was ordered by ultra-right elements.

              Three army soldiers and a priest were convicted in the 1998 slaying of
              Guatemalan bishop Juan Jose Gerardi, two days after he presented a report
              blaming the military for most of the 200,000 deaths in Guatemala's
              1960-1996 civil war. Gerardi was bludgeoned to death at his seminary in
              Guatemala City.