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Monday, 3 December, 2001, 06:12 GMT
Dying boy touches Colombian hearts
Andres Felipe Perez with his mother, Francis Ocampo
Doctors say only a miracle can save the boy
The Roman Catholic Church in Colombia has called on the country's largest guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), to free a policeman whose son is terminally ill with cancer.

The head of the Catholic Bishop's Conference, Monsignor Alberto Giraldo, said the FARC should leave aside politics and consider the suffering of a child.

I am ready to be exchanged with the police officer, because his son deserves to spend Christmas and his last days with his father

Youth at protest march

The 12-year old boy, Andres Felipe Perez, attracted nationwide sympathy by asking the rebels to release his father before he died.

But the government rejected a Farc proposal to exchange Norberto Perez, who has been held now for two years, for a jailed rebel.

Doctors say the boy could die within days.

Interior Minister Armando Estrada said that the Mr Perez had been abducted "defending the constitution and the laws of Colombia".

But the jailed FARC member, Ignacio Gonzales Perdomo, was by contrast in prison for "violating the law", the minister said.

A pro-FARC website says that Perdomo is himself "grievously ill".

'Take me instead'

The plight of the policeman's son has aroused widespread sympathy in Colombia since the family announced that only a kidney transplant from his father could save him.

The rebels previously offered to release Noberto Perez if his son was examined by FARC doctors but the child is too ill to travel.

Peace counsellor Mireya Mejia Araujo embraces her son on being freed by the Farc after three weeks
Colombia has one of the highest abduction rates in the world

About 2,000 Colombian human rights activists, prominent citizens and schoolchildren have offered to swap places with the abducted policeman.

According to one newspaper, a teenager was turned back by the rebels when he tried to enter the rebels' southern safe haven at the weekend to offer himself in exchange.

More violence

Thousands of people are killed and kidnapped annually in Colombia which has suffered a civil war for the past 37 years between leftist rebels and government and rightwing paramilitary forces.

Colombian military helicopters
Political and drug-related unrest is still rife
The FARC released 363 police and military personnel during the summer in exchange for 11 rebels, but are still thought to be holding about 50 people.

In the latest violence, suspected right-wing paramilitaries stopped a bus near Sogamosa, 175 kilometres (110 miles) northeast of Bogota, on Saturday and executed at least 15 of its passengers on the roadside.

On the same day, the paramilitaries are also believed to have shot dead nine people in two other attacks, including a young man who was mentally retarded.

In another recent development, an army helicopter came down in mountains in central Colombia during a routine flight, killing five people and injuring three others.

The army denies hostile fire was to blame.

See also:

21 Oct 01 | Americas
Fresh violence kills 30 in Colombia
06 Oct 01 | Americas
Colombia peace talks rescued
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