Guerrillas kill 13 in Columbia

Wednesday, January 2, 2002

BOGOTA, Colombia -- Colombian guerrillas waged scattered attacks over the New Year holiday, leaving 13 people dead on the eve of peace talks, officials said Tuesday.

Among those killed were eight soldiers who died when they stumbled on a mine field.

Delegates from the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia -- the country's main rebel army, also known as the FARC -- and President Andres Pastrana's government are scheduled to meet Thursday in an effort to get cease-fire talks under way.

The FARC and another leftist group have been fighting the government and an outlawed right-wing group for control of Colombia for nearly four decades.

Despite the violence, there was no sign of any change in plans to hold the talks. The rebels have so far refused to begin formal discussion about a cease-fire.

This round of violence began Monday, when FARC guerrillas attacked the western towns of Purace and Coconuco with machine guns and homemade mortars, damaging houses and destroying the towns' police posts, the military said.

Two police officers died in Purace before troops backed by warplanes helped police fend off the rebels, said acting army chief Gen. Euclides Sanchez.

The soldiers killed in the mine field had been pursuing rebels who had attacked Coconuco and then retreated into the mountains, Sanchez added.

Civilians in several western towns have recently organized in an effort to resist guerrilla attacks, but the rebels reportedly rebuffed protesters who tried to intervene peacefully to prevent Monday's incursions in Purace and Coconuco.

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