Murder of kidnapped father stirs up revulsion in Colombia

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Four months ago, the Colombian guerrillas refused to release Jose Norberto Perez Ruiz, even though his 12-year-old son was dying of cancer and pleading to see him.

At the weekend, they sent the police corporal's rotting body to the International Red Cross with bullets in his back and neck. The body of his companion, Victor Manuel Marulanda Rueda, was also peppered with gunshots.

Both men had been held captive by the Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) for more than two years and are said to have been shot while trying to escape last week.

Farc had declined to allow Mr Perez to visit the deathbed of his son Andres, despite offers from hundreds of Colombian volunteers to swap places with him. The plight of the boy and his father touched a nation exasperated with violence and guerrilla brutality. The boy's mother said his last words were: "I'm going to sleep. If Dad calls, wake me up."

It was not clear if news of Andres's death reached Mr Perez, who had been shackled in a jungle prison in western Colombia. Mr Perez's ex-wife said: "Not only do they kidnap him, they assassinate him after ignoring calls from hisdying son."

The Farc were unmoved. According to a statement on their website: "Andres Felipe never had a dad. In spite of his cancer, his father left him as a six-month-old baby. But now, with the imminent death of the boy, everyone wants the boy and his father to reunite. It is exploitation ... and this doesn't take into account the 300 children who die of hunger every day in Colombia."

Such callousness unleashed a wave of revulsion across the country, which grew yesterday when a powerful car bombexploded in a crowded nightclub district, killing at least 12 people.

The blast, which also injured 100 people, hit Villavicencio, 113km (70 miles) south-east of Bogota. The authorities suspect that the Farc planted the bomb.

After peace talks broke down in February, Farc guerrillas threatened a campaign of urban violence inspired by three IRA members, who allegedly trained them last summer in weaponry.

But a rival guerrilla group, the ELN (National Liberation Army) and right-wing paramilitary death squads have also caused mayhem.

Hospitals called for more blood donors to come forward as they treated the wounded in the worst attack this year. "This is indiscriminate terrorism," a police colonel, Jorge Alirio Baron, said. "It's the sort of act the Farc has threatened." Efforts to end the war collapsed after President Andres Pastrana broke off peace talks with the 17,000-member Farc and ordered the rebels to vacate "Farclandia", the area the size of Switzerland they were handed at the end of1998 in response to their pre-condition for coming to thenegotiating table.

An average of 3,500 people are killed every year in the civil war, which has dragged on for 38 years.