80 killed in fighting between paramilitaries in Colombia

Intense fighting between rebels and paramilitary groups for control of the cocaine trade in the jungles of western Colombia left at least 80 outlawed fighters dead, an official in a nearby town said. Army officials confirmed Thursday fighting had taken place, but provided no casualty figures.

The combat happened over several hours on Wednesday and Thursday in the jungles outside the town of San Jose del Palmar, 310 kilometers (192 miles) west of Bogota, Federico Cuellar, a human rights official in the town, told the El Tiempo newspaper Web site.

Cuellar said he based his account on reports from several right-wing paramilitary fighters who were injured in the fighting and were taken to San Jose del Palmar for treatment.

Col. Jose Forero of the Colombian army told The Associated Press late Thursday that troops had still not arrived to the where the battle was, and therefore said it was impossible to provide a death toll.

Speaking by telephone near where the action took place, he said the rebels involved were most likely from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, the country's main leftist group. "We may never know the actual figure because both sides often hide their dead after the shooting stops," Forero said. "All we know for sure is no civilians were killed, because the fighting happened far from any towns."

The FARC has been fighting the Colombian government for social revolution since the 1960s, while paramilitary groups sprouted two decades ago as an outlawed force that attacked the rebels. Both groups have become heavily involved in drug trafficking, and the region where the combat occurred is filled with fields of coca, the plant used to make cocaine, Forero said, reports the AP. I.L.