US Condemns Kidnapping of Roman Catholic Clergymen In Colombia

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:12 PM EDT

( - Colombia's government has mobilized its soldiers and helicopters in the hunt for Roman Catholic Bishop Jorge Enrique Jimenez, one of Colombia's leading clergymen, who was kidnapped along with another priest while traveling north of Bogota, the Colombian capital, last Monday.

No group has claimed responsibility for the incident, but Colombian Army General Reynaldo Castellanos told BBC radio the clergymen were seized by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. FARC, as the group is known, is on the United States' and European Union's list of terrorist organizations.

The group makes it a habit to kidnap politicians, police, soldiers and now priests, whom it holds as pawns to be "exchanged" with jailed rebels.

Colombia is offering a $35,000 reward for information leading to the priests' release. Pope John Paul II is offering prayers. On Wednesday, speaking in Spanish, the pope expressed his sorrow over Colombia's "climate of human rights persecutions."

"While I vehemently ask for the freedom of all abductees, and that these priests return to exercise their service to the people of God, I raise my prayers so that God grants much-desired peace to Colombia," he said.

The kidnapped bishop, Jimenez, is president of the Latin American Bishops' Council, which coordinates church activity in 22 Latin American states. He also is in charge of a diocese in the Colombian city of Zipaquira.

The United States joined the condemnation of the kidnappings. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters the United States deplores a "kidnapping campaign" by "illegal armed groups" against Colombian religious and government figures.

Boucher said the kidnappings "demonstrate once again the lack of regard for the most basic human rights by these groups. The kidnapping of these two clergymen is the latest in a series of terrorist attacks against Colombia's Roman Catholic bishops and priests."

The Institute on Religion and Public Policy called on the Bush administration to put pressure on groups such as "FARC," but it didn't say what kind of pressure.

"This heinous act is yet another demonstration of the total disregard for human dignity and freedom on the part of Colombian guerrillas," said Institute president Joseph Grieboski.

"The Bush administration and the entire international community must bring pressure to bear on groups such as FARC. The international community cannot and must not stand for such appalling acts," he said.

Colombia is one of the biggest recipients of U.S. aid, but under current law, that aid can be used only to fight drug trafficking.

Presidents Bush and Clinton have sent more than $1 billion in aid to Colombia.

Officials said the two clergymen were kidnapped after gunman stopped their car as they were heading to the Colombian town of Pacho, about 35 miles north of Bogota, to perform a religious ceremony.

Reports said the driver and a schoolteacher in the car were released. It was the driver who alerted authorities about the kidnapping.

Colombia has been ravaged by a 38-year-old civil war between left-wing rebels and right-wing paramilitaries. Over 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict in the past decade, according to officials.

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