Uribe, undaunted by deadly attack, travels to provinces

Friday, August 9, 2002

VALLEDUPAR, Colombia -- Colombia's new president, undaunted by a mortar attack that killed 17 people in the capital during his inauguration, urged Colombians on Thursday to put aside fear and work together for peace.

"We must overcome fear," Alvaro Uribe told townspeople in Valledupar as soldiers stood guard. "We do that by everybody getting involved."

Uribe has proposed 1 million Colombians become informants for government security forces, using government-provided radios to report rebel activities.

Asked by a reporter if he felt vulnerable after the attack Wednesday, Uribe said: "The country is vulnerable. That's why we started this fight."

The death toll from Wednesday's attack in Bogota rose overnight to 17 after three people died of their wounds, the Bogota mayor's office said. Sixty people initially were reported wounded.

Uribe, who campaigned for office with the promise of bringing the rebels to their knees, seemed unfazed by the guerrillas' opening salvo of mortar shells that rained down as he was inaugurated inside the Congress building.

Uribe appeared relaxed as he arrived in Valledupar, a provincial capital below the snowcapped Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains. Hundreds of army troops provided security for the visit. He was to detail plans to make the country's roads safe from rebel attacks and kidnappings.

Robert Zoellick, the U.S. trade representative and head of the U.S. delegation, said Thursday he admired Uribe's courage in taking on the violent country's problems.

Zoellick called Wednesday's attacks a failure for the rebels.

"The narcoterrorists tried to stop this election ... and they tried to stop the inauguration by killing innocent people," he said. "They failed."

The deadly attack Wednesday began moments before Uribe was sworn in, as three mortar rounds exploded just blocks away. Two other shells hit the building next to the presidential palace, wounding a policeman.

The attacks were rebels' first show of force against Uribe.

Bogota Mayor Antanas Mockus said two of the houses used to launch the attacks were rented two weeks ago, suggesting a well-planned assault. Intercepted radio communications implicated the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, in the attacks.

The attacks occurred despite tight security in Bogota ahead of the inauguration.

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