Outspoken archbishop shot dead in Colombia
BOGOTA - Unidentified gunmen killed Archbishop Isaias Duarte Cancino of
the city of Cali on Saturday,
silencing a voice that had often been critical of leftist Colombian rebels.
Duarte was dead on arrival at Carlos Holmes Trujillo Hospital, said hospital
director Ricardo Vanegas. 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 claimed responsibility for the attack.
Duarte had frequently criticized leftist rebels for their attacks and kidnappings.
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,
had also earned Duarte's ire for
conducting mass kidnappings in Cali in recent years, including abducting worshipers at a Cali church.
Although talks with the FARC collapsed, the ELN is participating in peace talks with Colombian
government representatives in Havana, Cuba.
Alvaro Uribe, who is leading the polls ahead of presidential elections
next May 26, said he was
saddened by the assassination.
''The truth is that he is irreplaceable,'' Uribe told reporters in Cali, where he was on a campaign swing.
In other violence Saturday, Colombian army troops attacked leftist rebels
inside the FARC's former safe
zone in southern Colombia, killing 17 guerrillas, the army said.
Soldiers had been pursuing FARC rebels in the region for days after the
guerrillas set up a roadblock
and detained buses and 42 people, the army's 4th division commander, Gen. Arcesio Barrero, said.
They finally caught up with them early Saturday outside Vistahermosa, about
170 miles south of the
''It was a profound blow,'' Barrero said.
The battle Saturday was one of the heaviest in the former safe zone since
President Andrés Pastrana
ended a three-year peace process with the FARC last month and launched a military operation to
retake parts of the Switzerland-sized zone.
During a police counternarcotics operation in the zone Friday, agents destroyed
laboratories controlled by the FARC and burned 7.4 tons of cocaine found there, police said.
The labs were located near Vistahermosa and La Macarena. Together, the
labs were capable of
producing four tons of cocaine every week, National Police chief Ernesto Gilibert said Saturday.
Colombia's 38-year-old conflict -- in which two guerrilla armies are battling
the government and a
right-wing paramilitary group -- kills an estimated 3,500 annually.
In addition to the 17 deaths in the former rebel haven, soldiers in Cundinamarca
provinces also killed 10 rebels in fighting late Friday, army Capt. Jorge Florez said.