updated 7/27/2004 7:11:14 PM ET 2004-07-27T23:11:14

Marxist guerrillas freed a Roman Catholic bishop Tuesday, three days after he was abducted, church officials said.

Misael Vacca Ramirez, the bishop of Yopal, was released close to where he was taken in remote mountains near the town of Morcote, about 120 miles northeast of the capital, Bogota, Luis Augusto Castro, the Archbishop of Tunja, told The Associated Press.

President Alvaro Uribe on Monday had ordered army troops on a mission to return the bishop to safety.

Vacca Ramirez was seized Saturday by members of the National Liberation Army, or ELN, the smaller of the country’s two main rebel groups.

Speaking earlier Tuesday from Rome, Pope John Paul II denounced the kidnapping as a “criminal action, in no way justifiable.”

The Vatican said it was particularly “reprehensible” that a bishop sent to work among the poor was being blocked from performing his mission.

Two priests and a local mayor with Vacca Ramirez at the time of the abduction said the rebels told them they wanted to give the bishop a message to deliver to authorities before setting him free.

“We were detained on Saturday by men in uniform who said they were from the ELN,” the mayor of Nunchia, Jose del Carmen Galvis, told a radio station. On Sunday, two other rebels came and took Vacca Ramirez up into the mountains, while the others were released, the mayor said.

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

The ELN has been waging a 40-year-old war along with the larger Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, to topple the government and establish a Marxist-style state. The conflict claims an estimated 3,500 lives every year.

The Catholic Church has for years been deeply involved in promoting peace efforts in Colombia, often putting the lives of clergymen at risk. Over the past 20 years, an archbishop, a bishop, at least 50 priests and three nuns have been murdered. Dozens of others have been kidnapped.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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