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Colombian Bishop Rescued From FARC Kidnappers - 2002-11-15

Colombian troops have rescued a prominent bishop kidnapped by Marxist rebels. The military says the operation marks the most important victory against guerrilla groups since President Alvaro Uribe Velez took office three months ago.

Elite counter-insurgency troops rescued Bishop Jorge Enrique Jimenez around midday Friday, in the misty heights of the Andean mountains.

Defense Minister Marta Lucia Ramirez said the army was still locked in battle with the rebel unit that abducted the cleric. The military reported one rebel casualty and one rebel arrest.

Gunmen from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, kidnapped the bishop on Monday as he traveled to a remote village to hold a confirmation ceremony. A local priest snatched from the same vehicle was also rescued.

The defense minister also thanked farmers from the region for orienting soldiers and helping them to close in on the rebels. Authorities said Bishop Jimenez was shaken, but in good health.

The bishop's kidnapping sparked international condemnation, and his rescue was seen as a huge moral boost for Colombia's over-stretched armed forces. Ordinary citizens, worn down by 38 years of civil conflict, were also jubilant.

President Uribe took office in August amid promises to beat down the FARC militarily, but the government has yet to reestablish order in the lawless countryside. The FARC funds its insurgency with drug profits and ransom payments, and is considered a terrorist organization by the State Department.

The FARC apparently kidnapped the bishop to pressure the government into a prisoner exchange. The group is still holding a former presidential candidate, a state governor and several council members.