Attacks by Rebels Appear as Response To US Plan

Attacks by Rebels Appear as Response To US Plan
Posted by FoM on July 20, 2000 at 05:09:44 PT
By Clifford Krauss
Source: New York Times
Apparently responding to the passage of $1.3 billion in aid for Colombia's armed forces in the United States Congress, the country's largest guerrilla group has made a series of audacious attacks on isolated towns and police headquarters in recent weeks, killing more than 200 people. The attacks by rebels operating in large units have underscored the military's lack of mobility and intelligence tools, which the aid is intended to remedy. 
They have also further weakened President Andrés Pastrana by hampering his efforts to bring the armed forces and the opposition Liberal Party fully behind his effort to negotiate a peace settlement with the rebels. The attacks by the Revolutionary Armed Force of Colombia are considered so serious that on Monday the army announced that it would reinforce its defenses around the capital, putting 7,000 troops on alert. The rebels have been increasing their efforts to organize more urban cells and even a clandestine political party to expand their reach from rural fronts to the cities, according to military analysts. They say the latest attacks appear intended to disperse the armed forces into defensive positions around the country. Many of the attacks have been staged from a demilitarized zone handed to the guerrillas by the government in 1998 as a gesture to promote peace talks, which have sputtered for more than a year. Military and police units were removed from the zone, giving the rebels a safe haven in the heart of the country. Senior military officials said the rebels appeared to be trying to expand the zone, which is already the size of Switzerland, and create corridors to other areas they control in the southern provinces of Tolima and Huila. "People ask why we don't simply surround the zone, but it is impossible," Defense Minister Luis Fernando Ramírez said in an interview this week. "It is easy for them to attack and return to the zone the same day without having to carry heavy provisions." The most serious attacks came late Friday when 180 rebels assaulted the ranching town of Roncesvalles, 100 miles southwest of Bogotá, overwhelming a police station and killing 13 of the 14 policemen. In a coordinated action, the rebels blew up sections of highway leading to the town to block army reinforcements. A policeman who hid said that his colleagues had surrendered and then been executed. When the armed forces finally arrived the next afternoon, they found the mayor's office, a telephone office, a supermarket and a dozen houses destroyed. They also found propaganda pamphlets criticizing the new American aid package strewn around the town. Rebel communiqués have called the aid program "a threat to the peace process." In an interview with The Associated Press, a rebel leader, Ivan Ríos, compared the stepped-up American involvement to "throwing fuel on the fire." The aid will provide 60 Black Hawk and Huey helicopters and support for intelligence and training to a new antinarcotics army brigade that will provide protection for stepped-up police activities in the southern provinces of Putamayo and Caquetá. Critics of the American program note that the brigade will not operate in the demilitarized zone and that the guerrillas can simply move their operations out of Putamayo and Caquetá while planters grow their coca deeper in the jungle. E-mail: letters nytimes.comSending Feedback to The New York Times on the Web July 20, 2000Copyright 2000 The New York Times Company Related Articles:Colombians Tell of Massacre, as Army Stood By's War is Also Ours in Colombia
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