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Boy Who Moved Colombia, Not Rebels, Dies
REUTERS . NY Times . 19 december 2001

Andres Felipe Pérez, who is dying of cancer, being helped by his mother, Francia Ocampo, and his sister, Ana, on his return from medical treatment in Bogotá. Rebels are holding his father and have refused to release him.

BOGOTÁ, Colombia, Dec. 18 (Reuters) — A 12-year-old Colombian boy, whose deathbed plea to see his kidnapped father touched this war-weary nation, died of cancer today, provoking fresh outrage at rebels who snubbed the boy's wish, relatives said.

Andrés Felipe Pérez died at his home in the southern city of Buga after suffering a respiratory crisis, doctors said.

The story of Andrés Felipe, whose policeman father has been held for nearly two years by rebels in jungle prison camps, became a rallying cry for many Colombians against kidnapping and rebel intransigence.

The image of the boy, bald from chemotherapy and breathing with an oxygen mask, was widely reproduced in newspapers and on television in a country grown largely indifferent to violence after a 37-year-old war that has killed 40,000 people in the last decade.

Speaking from bed with a weak voice to television cameras, he repeatedly asked rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, to release his father, Norberto Pérez.

When the news media campaign peaked last month, the 17,000-member rebel group finally offered to release the father if the government freed a rebel leader, a proposal the government rejected.

President Andrés Pastrana, who has entered his final year in office after engaging for the last three years in so-far fruitless peace talks, called the rebels' refusal an "example of FARC intransigence."

Although it appeared unlikely that the popular response to Andrés Felipe's death would spill over into the 2002 vote, presidential candidates condemned the rebels today for using kidnapping victims as bargaining chips and to fill war chests with ransom money.

The rebel group is holding about 100 soldiers and police officers in makeshift jungle camps hoping to exchange them for jailed comrades.

In June, the FARC, Latin America's oldest and most powerful rebel force, released 350 sick police officers and soldiers under a prisoner-exchange agreement struck with the government. The government freed 14 sick rebels from prison.