Sat, Sep 09, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Rogue army troops now suspected in Colombia bombing


The head of the army has accused his troops, including two officers, of participating in a deadly car-bombing on the eve of a swearing-in ceremony for Colombian President Alvaro Uribe last month that was originally blamed on leftist rebels.

The revelations come as the army is already reeling from a series of scandals linking troops to drug traffickers and the extrajudicial killings of civilians.

General Mario Montoya, head of the army, said that initial accusations against leftist rebels "didn't correspond to the reality" of the facts, deploring the alleged actions of his subordinates in a brief statement read on Thursday.

He said the army was fully cooperating with prosecutors in the investigation of the two unnamed officers and other soldiers.

On July 31, a week before Uribe was sworn in, a car bomb exploded in heavily fortified Bogota as trucks carrying dozens of soldiers passed by, killing one civilian and injuring 10 soldiers.

The blast came as a shock to Bogota's residents, who have grown accustomed in recent years to living out of harm's way and seeing political violence related to their country's four-decade civil war on the evening news, not their own streets.

Montoya did not say to what extent the soldiers had planned or participated in the attack.

Bogota's main daily newspaper, El Tiempo, said on its Web site on Thursday that authorities have video and wiretapped phone conversations, in addition to witness testimony, linking four army officials -- including a colonel -- with the attack.

The newspaper said the officers remain on active duty even though top military officers have known about the accusations for more than three weeks.

Montoya also said corrupt soldiers were behind the high-profile seizure in recent weeks of several weapon stockpiles that authorities originally said belonged to rebels but which now appear to have been staged to impress their superiors.

The main recipient of more than US$4 billion in US anti-narcotics military aid since 2000, Colombia's army is struggling to clear its battered reputation, with officers accused of trying to pass off as leftist rebels the bodies of innocent civilians killed extrajudicially.

An army colonel and his platoon also have been arrested for the May ambush of an elite anti-narcotics unit near the town of Cali. Montoya originally classified the case as a tragic case of friendly fire, but prosecutors believe the attack was performed on behalf of drug traffickers.

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