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Sunday, 7 April, 2002, 01:26 GMT 02:26 UK
Colombia rebels kill cancer boy's father
Mourners in Andres Felipe's funeral procession
Thousands mourned Andres Felipe's death last year
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By Jeremy McDermott
BBC correspondent in Colombia

The father of a boy who came to symbolise the degradation of Colombia's civil conflict has been killed trying to flee rebels who had been holding him hostage for over two years.

Police corporal Norberto Perez became a famous figure in Colombia after the plight of his 12-year-old son touched the hardened heart of this war-torn nation.

Andres Felipe Perez with his mother, Francis Ocampo
Andres Felipe became a symbol of the country's conflict
Andres Felipe had asked the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to release his father so he could see him before he died of cancer.

This was at the end of last year, and the haunting image of the gaunt little boy with terminal cancer became a regular fixture on the evening news as he pleaded with the guerrillas to release his father, if only for a while.

Worsening image

The story so touched Colombians that hundreds of people who had nothing to do with the Perez family offered to exchange themselves in rebel captivity for Corporal Perez.

The guerrillas said they would release Corporal Perez only when one of their senior commanders, in prison on charges of murder, was released.

The government said that was impossible, and so Andres Felipe died last December, without seeing his father.

Now, Perez's body has been handed over by the FARC to the International Red Cross.

The corpse had shots to the head and back, reportedly inflicted as the policeman tried to flee his captors.

The image of the FARC could not be any worse after the breakdown of peace talks in February and the ongoing rebel offensive across the country.

But the death of Andres Felipe and now his father has prompted many to ask just how much further this 38-year civil conflict can degrade the country.

See also:

22 Dec 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
The death of hope
19 Dec 01 | Americas
Colombia mourns tragic cancer boy
03 Dec 01 | Americas
Dying boy touches Colombian hearts
23 Nov 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Colombia
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