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US Condemns Kidnapping of Colombian Clergymen - 2002-11-12

The United States has joined religious leaders and human rights groups in condemning kidnapping in Colombia of one of the country's most prominent Roman Catholic clergymen. Bishop Jorge Enrique Jimenez, president of the Latin American bishop's conference, was seized along with another priest as they traveled north of the Colombian capital, Bogota.

The kidnapping of Bishop Jimenez has prompted an outpouring of condemnation and expressions of concern about Colombia's civil conflict, in which the Roman Catholic church has tried to play a mediation role.

Pope John Paul II said he felt "deep pain" over the abduction and was praying that those responsible free the bishop and abandon violence.

Amnesty International called the kidnapping a flagrant violation on international humanitarian law, while at the State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States deplores what it termed a "kidnapping campaign" by illegal armed groups against Colombian religious and government figures.

"Yesterday's cowardly abduction of both Monsignor Jorge Enrique Jimenez, the bishop of Zipaquira and the president of the Latin American Bishops Conference, and a parish priest demonstrate once again the lack of regard for the most basic human rights by these groups," said U.S. State Department spokesman. "The kidnapping of these two clergymen is the latest in a series of terrorist attacks against Colombia's Roman Catholic bishops and priests. "

Mr. Boucher said the campaign by terrorists included the assassination last March of the Archbishop of Cali, Isaias Duarte Cancino, and the killing by leftwing FARC guerrillas last month of a parish priest in Colombia's northern Sucre province.

There has been no claim of responsibility in Monday's abduction of Bishop Jimenez, though Colombian authorities have blamed FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the country's main leftwing insurgent group.

In another development, the State Department reacted uncritically to the decision by embattled Colombian President Alvaro Uribe to extend emergency powers for another 90 days.

Spokesman Mr. Boucher said the initial 90 day period of the "state of internal disturbance" was handled with what he termed "full respect for Colombia's constitution and the rule of law" and he cited a promise by Mr. Uribe that the extension would be no different.

The United States has strongly supported Mr. Uribe, who took office in August, and his government's struggle against the insurgents, far-right paramilitaries, and drug gangs.