Mon, Feb 27, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Leftist rebels kill nine in gun attack on a Colombian bus

AP , BOGOTA, COLOMBIA

Leftist rebels killed nine people on Saturday in an attack on a passenger bus that defied a guerrilla-imposed traffic ban in southern Colombia, authorities said.

Insurgents with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, fired several shots at the bus on a remote highway near Puerto Rico, 310km southwest of Bogota, causing the driver to lose control and slam into a wall, said Colonel Jose Angel Mendoza, police chief of Caqueta state.

"We don't understand how they can attack the unarmed civilian population in this way," Mendoza said in an interview with RCN Radio.

seven killed

Seven people were killed at the scene by gunfire or in the ensuing crash, and two more died later at a hospital in Puerto Rico, said Mario Posado, the hospital's director.

Posado said at least 11 more passengers were injured, including a nine-year-old child.

More than a week ago, FARC rebels began distributing pamphlets warning drivers to stay off the highways in Caqueta and Putumayo states.

The FARC said the traffic ban was aimed in part to protest the re-election bid of President Alvaro Uribe, a hard-line leader with whom the rebels have shunned peace talks.

Uribe, who is well-liked by most Colombians and seems likely to coast to victory in presidential elections set for May 28, has sought to wipe out the guerrillas militarily.

The ban has caused shortages of food and gasoline in cities throughout the region as truck drivers idled their rigs for fear of being attacked.

torched

About a dozen vehicles -- school buses, taxis, delivery trucks -- that defied the ban have been burned by rebels. There had been no reports of casualties, however, as drivers were allowed to flee before the vehicles were torched.

In response, the military began daily caravans to escort dozens of trucks and buses, and the government said it would guarantee the safety of those in the convoys.

The bus attacked on Saturday apparently was part of a caravan but fell behind after stopping to pick up passengers, said a Puerto Rico police official who refused to be identified because he is not an authorized spokesman.

Colombia's leftist rebels have been fighting the government for more than four decades in a conflict that claims thousands of lives every year.

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