|Colombia||REBEL LEADER VISITED VATICAN: REPORT|
The head of the Marxist rebel group that abducted more than 140 Colombian churchgoers met a senior official at the Vatican to discuss a crime Pope John Paul has condemned as a sacrilege, local media reported on Wednesday.
Nicolas Rodriguez, maximum commander of the Cuban-inspired National Liberation Army (ELN), travelled to the Vatican for the secret talks last weekend along with former German security minister Bernd Schmidbauer, according to Bogota's El Espectador newspaper.
It did not say how the elusive rebel chieftain, who is known by the alias ``Gabino'' and tops Colombia's most wanted lists, managed to travel abroad.
But it said he was received by a senior prelate who agreed to his demand that the Church play a role in negotiations aimed at winning the release of nearly 90 people kidnapped by the ELN since 12 April, when it hijacked a commercial airliner and abducted its 41 passengers and crew.
Juan Gossain, director of Colombia's respected RCN all-news radio network, identified the Vatican official as Cardinal Dario Castrillon, a Colombian who is a close aid of the Pope.
Reuters 11:36am 10/6/99