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Sunday, 17 March, 2002, 20:06 GMT
Pope mourns Colombia archbishop
A woman cries over the body of the archbishop
The archbishop had been in church just before he was shot
Pope John Paul II has condemned the killing of Colombian archbishop Isaias Duarte Cancino as "barbaric".

Speaking during Mass in Saint Peter's Square in Rome, he said the archbishop had paid a high price for his energetic defence of human life and his firm opposition to all kinds of violence.


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

Archbishop Duarte's driver

Two men were waiting outside the church in a poor district of Cali where Archbishop Duarte, 63, had just conducted a group wedding service for 100 couples.

The men shot him at point blank range in the head and chest, escaping on a motorcycle.

Monsignor Duarte had been an outspoken critic of drug barons and paramilitaries.

"The archbishop was a brave man who told the truth about these gangsters, and he has been murdered as a result," said British Foreign Office Minister Denis MacShane, condemning what he called an act of "cowardly terrorism".

Dead on arrival

The killing came as the Colombian army dealt its hardest blow yet 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.

The archbishop was shot a number of times as he left the Buen Pastor Church and got into his car.

Doctors pronounced him dead on arrival at hospital.

The Pope overlooks St Peter's Square
The Pope said Duarte had opposed violence

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

A BBC correspondent says that the archbishop had never been one to avoid 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).

Police protection

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 operations

Archbishop Isaias Duarte Cancino
Monsignor Duarte had spoken out against rebels and drugs barons
In the largest of several operations on Saturday, Colombian troops ambushed a rebel road block near Villa Hermosa, killing 14 FARC guerrillas, among them four women.

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.

The operation to drive the guerrillas out began after three years of peace talks broke down in February.

In the former safe haven, anti-narcotics police said they had raided a drugs lab, finding more than 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.

Despite the military successes, the BBC correspondent says troops have been unable to capture a single rebel leader or lure the guerrillas from the jungle.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jeremy McDermott
"As he was leaving, there were two men waiting for him"
See also:

17 Mar 02 | Americas
Archbishop Duarte's many enemies
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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