Two young girls killed among 15 in gang fighting

Intense fighting between armed groups vying for control of the cocaine trade occurred in southwest Colombia. 15 people were shot dead, including two young girls caught in the crossfire while hiding in their home.

The fighting between the paramilitary United Self Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC, and the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, lasted several hours and took place amid several homes in the hamlet of La Esmeralda.

Twelve of those killed were fighters with the FARC or the AUC, while an adult civilian seeking cover was killed along with the girls, the police official said. The girls, ages 8 and 11, were taken to a hospital where they died.

Three other people were injured in the fighting.

The remote region near La Esmeralda, 550 kilometers (340 miles) southwest of Bogota, has long been an important region for producing coca, the green bush that is the main ingredient of cocaine. Colombia is embroiled in a four-decade conflict that claims more than 3,000 lives a year, most of them civilians, the AP reports.

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