Colombian Troops Pursue Rebels

Colombian Troops Pursue Rebels
Posted by FoM on January 16, 2000 at 14:20:45 PT
By The Associated Press
Source: New York Times
Army units backed by helicopter gunships chased rebels into a mountainous zone south of Bogota on Sunday, a day after the heaviest fighting in months killed at least 50 people. Clashes between the army and the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia continued into Sunday near the town of Guayabetal, 30 miles southeast of Bogota, the capital. 
The rebels tried to take over the town on Saturday but were repelled by some 1,000 troops backed up by the Colombian Air Force. On Sunday the town was squarely in government hands, a statement from the army's press office said. Army officials said troops were pursuing the rebels. Hundreds of soldiers could be seen patrolling a main road in the Guayabetal area. A Colombian television reporter covering the fighting near Bogota was injured in the stomach Sunday when a peasant who was guiding her mishandled a grenade and it exploded in his hands. The peasant, whose identity was not immediately known, died instantly. The reporter, Astrid Legarda of RCN television, was in stable condition at a local hospital, station officials said. In Saturday's fighting, residents ran for cover and motorists hid underneath vehicles while the army's Blackhawk helicopters pounded the mountainous region with rockets and machine guns. Television images showed a slain rebel, his hands and feet tied to a branch, being carried out of the battle zone. Army commander Gen. Fernando Tapias said 44 rebels died in the fighting on Saturday. Five soldiers and a policeman also were reported killed. There were reports of several civilian casualties, but the exact number was not known. The army said the original offensive was carried out by 500 FARC rebels. It was the worst fighting in Colombia in six months. The FARC, which has about 15,000 fighters, is one of two main guerrilla groups that have been fighting the Colombian state for more than 35 years. At least 30,000 people have died in the civil war. Saturday's fighting occurred on the same day that U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visited the northern Colombian city of Cartagena to promote a proposed $1.6 billion aid package to help Colombia fight drugs. FARC rebel commanders lambasted the proposed aid, saying it will only worsen the country's armed conflict. The guerrillas control about a third of the nation, earning huge payoffs from protecting drug traffickers' operations and taxing peasants who grow illegal drug crops. Bogota, Colombia (AP)Published: January 16, 2000Copyright 2000 The New York Times Company Related Articles:Fighting in Colombia Leaves 50 Dead - 1/15/2000 Will Complement Fight Against Drugs - 1/15/2000
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