Colombia's new offensive against irregular forces leaves 60 killed

The operation took place during the weekend. It included attacks on leftist rebels and far right paramilitary groups.

Colombia's conservative administration led by president Alvaro Uribe Velez launched last weekend the most ambitious military operation in months. In a broad front some 300 kilometers from country's capital, Bogota, soldiers killed 22 paramilitary gunmen, captured three others and 28 rebels were shot dead, according to a statement issued by the army on Sunday. The report also reads that ten Colombian soldiers were killed in the operations, raising death toll to 60.

According to the army report, the most heated combat took place in a cattle ranching region of Casanare province, about 185 miles (300 km) northeast of Bogota, where the army intercepted a paramilitary caravan. There, soldiers killed 21 paramilitary outlaws and captured three others. The ten Colombian soldiers were killed in that offensive.

Army officers confirmed paramilitaries were planning to attack the rural village of Villanueva. “The army quickly acted after weighing intelligence reports”, said Army Chief Commander, General Martin Orlando Carreno, in a news conference.

In another attack to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, in Antioquia, the army left 17 rebels and another paramilitary fighter dead. However, the army does not report on any trooper killed in such operation. The FARC did not confirm the information. Another four FARC rebels died in another offensive, while seven ELN (National Liberation Army) fighters were reported dead at the former demilitarized area where the frustrated peace talks took place during Andres Pastrana ruling between 1998 and 2002.

The attacks on paramilitary forces comes while these groups are discussing a cease-fire deal and, according to official sources are committed to a “peaceful solution” to the armed conflict that has slaughtered Colombia for forty years. 

Uribe, a close U.S. ally, has opened controversial talks to demobilize 20,000 paramilitary gunmen -- branded "terrorists" by Washington. But until they retire from the conflict, Uribe promises to intensify attacks on the outlaws, who target leftist rebels and are blamed for some of the worst atrocities in the Colombia's four-decade-old guerrilla war.

However, between December 2002 to December 2003, and according to official records, the far-right fighters committed at least a dozen massacres. At the same time, paramilitary bosses, wanted in the United States on drug trafficking charges, are calling for an amnesty deal as part of any accord to demobilize their men.

Government's hard line against leftist rebels is widely supported by the population, but such support does not avoid president Uribe to suffer a big defeat in a referendum on country's economic policy in late 2003.


Hernan Etchaleco

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Author`s name Andrey Mikhailov