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Colombian Rebels Kill Seven on Road

January 28, 2002

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ Rebels killed seven people in central Colombia and police were investigating another six deaths on a road the guerrillas had announced they were closing, authorities said Sunday.

Army troops and Red Cross officials were heading to the town of Colombia, some 90 miles south of Bogota, Sunday after seven people were killed, including an entire family, in villages surrounding the town, Army Gen. Gilberto Rocha said.

He blamed the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia for the slayings, explaining that the rebels were taking control of a corridor between a rebel safe haven and the coca-growing region around Cali. President Andres Pastrana ceded the huge swath of land to the FARC about three years ago.

Meanwhile, five men and one woman were shot and killed Saturday at a truck stop on the road between Villavicencio and Yopal, authorities said Sunday.

Police in Meta state said they could not say for certain if the FARC was responsible. On Thursday the FARC announced they were closing that road and several others in the region.

In other violence, the FARC attacked the town of Valparaiso in the southern state of Caqueta on Saturday, destroying the bridge that connects the town to the rest of the country, police said Sunday.

The parish priest, Domingo Pastrana, told RCN television that 40 to 45 percent of the residents had fled Valparaiso, 260 miles from Bogota, because of the violence.

Army officials on Sunday claimed to have killed nine rebels in fighting and said they found a shallow grave containing the bodies of three teen-agers. The army released a tape of an intercepted radio conversation they claimed was rebel commanders ordering the teen-agers killed for deserting.

Also on Sunday, another seven electrical towers were dynamited outside Bogota, energy officials said. And police were investigating a bombing in a restaurant near a police station that injured eight.

The FARC had no immediate comment on the latest violence.

The rebels have unleashed a wave of attacks around the country in recent weeks, destroying more than 30 electric towers, damaging a reservoir, closing roads, and attacking towns.

The attacks come as the 16,000-strong FARC and the government are trying to reach an agreement for a cease-fire in Colombia’s 38-year civil war.

Roughly 3,500 people die every year in the war, which pits the FARC and a smaller rebel army against an illegal right-wing paramilitary force and government troops.

Paramilitary leaders announced on Saturday they would be willing to enter peace talks with the government, but only when the rebels say they are laying down their arms. Pastrana said for the first time during a recent interview that ht would be willing to hold peace talks with the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC.

``We would be pleased to sit down to a dialogue with the government that is present when the guerrillas announce the dismantling of their war machine,″ the AUC said in a statement.

But the statement was far from conciliatory. The AUC was particularly critical of Pastrana’s decision to cede the Switzerland-sized territory to the FARC, a move aimed at luring the rebels to the negotiating table. The AUC is among critics who say the FARC has used the safe haven to train troops, run their drug trafficking business and hide hostages.

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