Wed, Feb 16, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Drug war exacting a heavy price in Colombia's south

DPA , BOGOTA

At least 56 people were killed in the last three days in a series of drug vendettas among traffickers and rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in Valle del Cauca province, officials said on Monday.

Governor Angelino Garzon said it was a "frightful" weekend for southwestern Valle del Cauca.

In one of the incidents, eight decomposing bodies showing signs of torture and gunshot wounds were found in Roldanillo. Valle del Cauca police commander colonel Uriel Toro said the deaths were part of a battle between the powerful Norte del Valle cartel and the guerrillas.

FARC rebels are said to be taking positions in Valle del Cauca following the demobilization of a large commando of the rightwing paramilitaries, their rivals.

The peace process with the rightwing paramilitaries, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), is part of a strategy put in place by President Alvaro Uribe to try and end the country's decades old civil conflict.

Uribe had previously refused to meet with FARC and with the other leftwing guerrillas, the National Liberation Army (ELN).

However, in an about turn on Saturday following two weeks of intensive guerrilla attacks that killed about 50 troops, Uribe said that he would be willing to meet with FARC and ELN leaders, contingent on a ceasefire.

The recent rebel offensive seeks to derail Uribe's possible reelection plans, according to observers.

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