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Ex-Colombia Official Found Dead

September 30, 2001

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VALLEDUPAR, Colombia (AP) _ A beloved Colombian cultural figure was found slain days after she was kidnapped, reportedly by Colombian rebels. Her death raised calls by top politicians Sunday for an end to peace talks with the guerrillas.

Consuelo Araujo’s body was found by troops late Saturday in a ravine 9,800 feet high in the Sierra Nevada mountains outside Valledupar, army Col. Jose Mahecha told The Associated Press. She had suffered two gunshots to the face.

The killing of the 62-year-old Araujo, a former culture minister and friend of Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez and many other influential Colombians, severely tests President Andres Pastrana’s policy of peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC.

A presidential candidate in next May’s elections, Noemi Sanin, called for an immediate suspension of the peace process.

The talks began almost three years ago in a safe haven Pastrana granted to the rebels in southern Colombia but have produced no substantial results.

Pastrana had come under increasing pressure to produce results in peace negotiations or impose controls on the rebel safe haven, which expires at midnight on Oct. 7. Pastrana has renewed the 16,200-square mile zone several times, but has not said whether he would do so again.

Critics say rebels abuse the zone by using it to stash hostages and carry out military training. On Saturday, gun-toting FARC rebels prevented a caravan led by Horacio Serpa, a leading presidential candidate, from entering the huge safe haven to deliver a speech against the rebel abuses.

Serpa on Sunday said he was shocked by Araujo’s murder, calling it an ``unprecedented outrage.″

The FARC kidnapped Araujo _ who was a well-known folk music promoter and the wife of Colombia’s inspector-general _ and about 20 other people on Sept. 24, according to witnesses and the authorities. The rebel group has not claimed responsibility for the abduction or commented on Araujo’s death.

Thirteen of the hostages were freed a day after the mass kidnapping amid army pursuit.

Mahecha said troops Saturday were combing the mountains and came upon a group of Indian huts where fires were burning. As the soldiers began to secure a perimeter around the area, rebels opened fire at them, Mahecha said. The rebels dragged Araujo and other hostages on foot into the woods.

Araujo, exhausted from the trek, fell onto the ground and refused to go any further. At that point, the colonel said, rebels executed her. He was told how the killing occurred by some of the five hostages who were freed during the clash.

Araujo’s body remained in the mountains Sunday because fog and the rough terrain made it impossible for a helicopter to land.

The FARC, which is considered a terrorist organization by Washington, has some 16,000 combatants and has been waging a 37-year war against a succession of elected governments.

In Valledupar, Araujo’s hometown near Colombia’s Caribbean coast, hundreds of people gathered around her home on Sunday.

Araujo, who was minister from July 2000 until January, gained fame for promoting Vallenato music, an accordion-based folk music popular all over Colombia. More than 30 years ago, she founded an annual Vallenato festival that is one of Colombia’s most important cultural events.

Last year, she led a visit to the White House by a group of child Vallenato musicians received by President Clinton.

Araujo’s nephew, Alvaro Araujo, a congressman, denounced the FARC as ``terrorists,″ saying ``their mask is coming off.″

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