Military struggles to reach village where civilians were slain

QUIBDO, Colombia -- Even as government troops struggled Monday to reach a village where 110 civilians were reported slain, President Andres Pastrana called for a U.N. commission to look into the bloodbath.

Wooden boats carrying some of the wounded -- men, women and children -- began arriving in Quibdo, a grimy port town upriver from the jungle village of Bojaya, where the civilians, including about 40 children, died during fighting between rebels and paramilitary gunmen.

They were killed Thursday when a mortar round allegedly fired by rebels hit a church, where the villagers had sought shelter.

"Hopefully, the United Nations will come and see firsthand what the terrorists are doing here," Pastrana told reporters in the capital, Bogota.

He rejected accusations that the attacks -- some of the worst against civilians in Colombia's 38-year war -- could have been prevented had authorities heeded warnings from U.N. and Colombian human rights monitors.

"We are in an internal conflict and we are trying to cover all the national territory," said Pastrana, indicating that his U.S.-backed security forces were stretched too thin.

Army Gen. Fernando Tapias, head of Colombia's armed forces, accused the rebels of intentionally targeting the civilians in the village of Bojaya.

Those who survived the attack on the church in Bojaya described a hellish scene. Residents of the poor fishing village had agreed to meet in the cement-walled church in case of an attack. Some 600 people were inside when the explosion occurred.

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