Colombia rocked by father-daughter incest case

BOGOTA Sat Mar 28, 2009 9:20pm EDT

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BOGOTA (Reuters) - A Colombian man accused of sexually abusing his daughter from a young age and fathering eight children with her was arrested on Saturday, causing an outcry over the lack of child protection in the Andean nation.

Arcebio Alvarez, 58, told a judge he was innocent, saying his accuser was not his biological daughter.

He was held in custody while the children, three boys and five girls, were put under state protection. He was transported to jail under military guard to keep angry crowds at bay.

Earlier in the day, Alvarez was led away in handcuffs by agents from Colombia's attorney general's office after Alba Nidia Alvarez, the 35-year-old woman who claims to be his biological daughter, told police he had abused her since she was under the age of 10.

Alba Nidia, from the central Colombian town of Mariquita, said an evangelical Christian pastor had convinced her to come forward about the suspected abuse.

"I took this decision according to the will of God, thanks to a pastor who prayed for me many times," she said in an interview with the daily newspaper El Tiempo. "That is what gave me the strength."

The accused told a different story when he went before a judge on Saturday afternoon in Tolima province.

"I adopted her," he said. "We agreed to have a romantic relationship because we really loved each other. But she was not my own child."

Alba Nidia's mother died when she was 5, leaving her under the care of Alvarez, who has been branded "the monster of Mariquita" by the local press. The eight children are between the ages of 1 and 19.

Elvira Forero, head of Colombia's child welfare agency, called the case "an intolerable crime."

The story recalls that of Josef Fritzl, the Austrian man sentenced this month to life in a secure mental unit for confining and raping his daughter for 24 years, fathering seven children with her and causing the death of his infant son.

Child welfare advocates have called for a sentence of life in prison should Alvarez be convicted, saying were are hundreds of thousands of child sexual abuse cases in Colombia not being prosecuted.

(Reporting by Hugh Bronstein; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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