BY LUCY LETHBRIDGE
POPE JoHN PAUL II has condemned the shooting last week of a Salvadoran Catholic bishop as a "barbarous assassination".
Bishop Joaquin Ramos Umana, who held the title of Vicar of the Armed Forces, was killed last Friday when gunmen opened fire on a car carrying him from the airport to the capital, San Salvador.
Speaking during the customary Sunday Angelus in St Peter's Square, Pope John Paul said that he joined the Latin American Church in praying that "no more blood be spilt in El Salvador, where too much has already been shed and where there is still great suffering".
Aid agencies and peace organisations have warned that the recent demobilisation of armed forces since the end of El Salvador's civil war has led to an escalation of violence in the country.
Clare Dixon of the Latin American desk of CAFOD said: "The problem is that the country is full of former soldiers who are still armed but have no means of economic support."
There was some speculation this week that Bishop Umana may have been the victim of a government assassination. plot. Archbishop Arturo Rivera Y Damas of San Salvador used his Sunday sermon to cast doubt on the official government version and asked for a full investigation of the killing.
An army spokesman maintained this week that the bishop appeared to have been killed by criminals seeking to rob travellers.
Bishop Umana is the latest in a long Iist of victims of post-war violence in El Salvador. His death comes only one month after the killing of Mexican Cardinal Posadas Ocampo, who was caught in crossfire between two rival drugs gangs at Guadalajara airport.
In a letter sent this week to Archbishop Damas, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican Secretary of State, said that the bishop was the "victim of an unjustifiable act of violence".