Colombian gunmen kill archbishop who dared to speak out

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Gunmen in Colombia shot dead Archbishop Isaias Duarte Cancino, silencing a critic of leftist rebels, drug traffickers and corrupt politicians.

The 63-year-old archbishop had just completed a night-time group wedding on Saturday and was heading to his car when he was shot by two gunmen outside the Buen Pastor church in a working-class area of Cali, witnesses said.

Archbishop Duarte was dead on arrival at hospital. Television footage showed people weeping in the streets of Cali, Colombia's third-largest city. Edilberto Ceballos, the prelate'sdriver, said: "Two guys came and opened fire and hit him three or four times, maybe even six times. I saw him dead."

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the killing.

Archbishop Duarte often criticised rebels for their attacks and kidnappings. Colombia's 38-year-old civil war has intensified since peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc), collapsed last month.

A smaller rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), also drew the prelate's ire for its mass kidnappings in Cali, including abducting worshippers at a church. Although talks with Farc collapsed, the ELN is holding peace talks with the Colombian government in Havana.

Archbishop Duarte stated publicly that money from drug traffickers was funding candidates in the recent congressional elections. He did not name specific candidates, even though President Andres Pastrana had urged him to.

He is not the first outspoken Catholic bishop to die in Latin America. Archbishop Oscar Romero was shot by a sniper in 1980, a day after calling on the ultra-right military to halt its repressive tactics in El Salvador's civil war. In 1998, three soldiers and a priest beat to death a Guatemalan bishop, Juan Jose Gerardi, after he blamed the army for some 200,000 deaths in Guatemala's civil war. (AP)