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Sunday, 17 March, 2002, 05:20 GMT
Colombia archbishop murdered
Bodies of FARC rebels killed at Vista Hermosa
The army has seen some success against the FARC
In the Colombian city of Cali, Archbishop Isaias Duarte Cancino has been shot dead by unknown gunmen.

Two guys came and opened fire and hit him three or four times, maybe even six times

Archbishop Duarte's driver
The 63-year-old priest, who had frequently spoken out against drug barons and guerrillas, was gunned down on Saturday evening, outside the church where he had just conducted a marriage ceremony.

The killing came as the Colombian army dealt its hardest blow against rebels from the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC), since peace talks broke down on 20 February.

At least 21 rebels were killed in several incidents, and the army also destroyed a cache of more than seven tonnes of cocaine.

Popular prelate

Monsignor Duarte was rushed to hospital, after he was shot a number of times as he left the Buen Pastor Church and got into his car.

Doctors pronounced him dead on arrival.

"Two guys came and opened fire and hit him three or four times, maybe even six times", said his driver, Edilberto Ceballos.

Archbishop Isaias Duarte Cancino
Monsignor Duarte had spoken out against rebels and drugs barons
The BBC Colombia correspondent says that the archbishop had never been one to dodge controversy, and the list of suspects in his killing is long.

He had spoken out against drugs barons, accusing several candidates in this month's congressional elections of being financed and backed by traffickers.

The archbishop had also frequently condemned the FARC, as well as a smaller left-wing group, the National Liberation Army (ELN).

He ex-communicated a number of ELN members after they kidnapped 150 worshippers from a church in Cali in 1999.

The archbishop's private secretary has said that Monsignor Duarte had often asked for police protection, most recently on the day he was shot, but his requests were denied.

Soon after his murder, a major generator failure cut off power to Colombia's three main cities, Bogota, Medellin and Cali. It was not clear if the blackout was the result of sabotage.

Army action

In the largest of several operations, Colombian troops ambushed a rebel road block near Villa Hermosa, killing 14 FARC guerrillas, among them four women.

Car bomb damage at Puerto Lleras
Despite the army's operation, car bombings go on
Other engagements elsewhere in the country left another seven guerrillas dead and almost 30 captured.

These were the first successes since the Colombian military sent 13,000 soldiers into the former FARC safe haven.

There was amid much bragging about what they were going to do to the rebels, but until Saturday there had been no results.

The estimated 4,000 FARC guerrillas in the zone out of a total of 18,000 nationwide simply vanished back into the dense jungles from where they'd emerged three years before to begin peace talks.

Indeed, the rebels had infuriated the army by blowing up bridges and infrastructure around the area, and even chatting to journalists as troops tried to find them.

No capture

In the former safe haven, anti-narcotics police raided a drugs lab, finding over seven tonnes of cocaine waiting to be processed for exportation.

The police said the lab was further proof that the rebels were drugs traffickers, although they presented no evidence that the guerrillas were actually running the complex.

But despite the military's successes, the BBC Colombia correspondent says troops have been unable to capture a single rebel leader or lure the guerrillas from their jungle lairs.

Meanwhile, car bombs explode, infrastructure is destroyed and people are kidnapped.

The BBC's Jeremy McDermott
"It had all the trademarks of a professional assassination"
See also:

21 Feb 02 | Americas
Colombian army moves against rebels
01 Mar 02 | Americas
Timeline: Colombia
02 Mar 02 | From Our Own Correspondent
Colombia's war without end
24 Jan 02 | Americas
FARC demands bilateral truce
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