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Colombian guerrillas free Roman Catholic bishop

Kidnappers cut off from rebel leaders

BOGOTA -- Marxist guerrillas freed a Roman Catholic bishop unharmed yesterday after an army operation cut them off from rebel commanders who had wanted to give him a message for the government, the bishop said.

Misael Vacca Ramirez, the bishop of Yopal, was released close to where he was taken hostage on Saturday in remote northeastern mountains.

"I was treated well. At no moment did anybody show me disrespect," Vacca Ramirez, 48, told reporters after stepping off a helicopter that had flown him out of the mountains about 120 miles northeast of Bogota.

He tearfully hugged relatives on the tarmac in Yopal and thanked the Colombian people for support during his kidnapping.

Vacca Ramirez said members of the National Liberation Army, or ELN, said they kidnapped him to give him a political message for authorities.

But the government army forced the kidnappers deep into the jungle, and they were cut off from a rebel commander who was to give him the statement, Vacca Ramirez said.

"So it turned into nothing more than a big scare for me," the bishop said.

Archbishop Luis Augusto Castro said the ELN rebels likely acted without orders from their command, taking top ELN leaders by surprise.

President Alvaro Uribe welcomed Vacca Ramirez's release, but called for hundreds of other hostages held by guerrillas for ransom or political reasons to be released.

Some 1,000 troops had embarked on a search-and-rescue operation in the jungle-covered mountains.

Vacca Ramirez has been involved in peace efforts between the government, leftist rebels, and right-wing paramilitary groups battling for control of the oil-rich Casanare and Boyaca regions.

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