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Wednesday, 19 December, 2001, 02:21 GMT
Colombia mourns tragic cancer boy
Andres Felipe Perez with his mother, Francis Ocampo
Andres Felipe Perez never gave up hope
A Colombian boy who was suffering from cancer has died after appealing in vain to see his kidnapped father's face for one last time.

Andres Felipe Perez, 12, had became a fixture of the country's television news as he repeatedly called on rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to free his father.

Andres Felipe united national sentiment against violence and intolerance

President Andres Pastrana
His mother, Francia Edith Ocampo, told reporters that the boy's last words were: "I'm going to sleep. If dad calls wake me up."

Policeman Norberto Perez was captured almost two years ago in an attack by FARC, Colombia's largest rebel group, on a rural village.

Children across Colombia sent letters to the rebels, asking them to grant Andres Felipe's wish.

Several prominent Colombians even offered to temporarily take the father's place in captivity in order to fulfill the boy's wish.

Pope John Paul II and other world leaders also demanded that the rebels release Mr Perez.

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
Doctors had initially said there was a possibility that Andres Felipe could be saved if his father donated a kidney to his son.

FARC leaders initially refused to free Mr Perez, and then tried to exchange him for an imprisoned guerrilla. The government refused.

Within months, the cancer had spread throughout Andres Felipe's body and even a kidney transplant would not have saved him.

The boy spent his final weeks in his home town of Buga in the south of the country, breathing with the help of a respirator.

Following his death, an aunt, Luz Maria Perez, called on God to punish FARC leader Manuel Marulanda.

"May this never happen to anyone else who has a child," she said.

On-off peace talks

President Andres Pastrana said the rebels had shown their insensitivity to human suffering by their rejection of the dying boy's appeals.

"We want to express our sorrow to his family, and to all Colombians, because Andres Felipe united national sentiment against violence and intolerance," he added.

Colombia's 37-year war - the subject of on-off peace talks between the government and rebels in recent months - has caused the deaths of tens of thousands of people.

The FARC is currently holding up to 100 soldiers and police officers in makeshift jungle camps, and is looking to exchange them for jailed rebels.

The BBC's Freya Michie
"His father was captured two years ago"
See also:

03 Dec 01 | Americas
Dying boy touches Colombian hearts
23 Nov 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Colombia
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