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Colombian Clashes Claim 11 Lives

December 30, 1998

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ At least eleven people were killed and hundreds fled their homes this week during clashes between guerrillas and rival paramilitary groups in northern Colombia, authorities said Wednesday.

Officials found a trail of burned and dismembered bodies in El Diamante, a village in the state of Cordoba, 290 miles northwest of Bogota. Leftist rebels battled militia members there for two days beginning Monday.

Health officials in the nearby town of Tierralta said the dead included a 3-week-old baby hit in the head with a stray bullet, a 7-year-old girl stabbed in the stomach with a machete, another young girl and an elderly woman. They also recovered the bodies of five men, many with burns or mutilated limbs, and a dismembered head.

``One would rather not believe that men are capable of this. It was pure barbarity, genocide,″ Dr. Viviano Guerrero of the Tierralta health department told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Guerrero said rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, burned down houses and a health clinic. It was unclear whether the dead were victims of the rebels or the militias, he said.

In addition, two soldiers were killed trying to prevent a separate rebel attack on Tierralta, the army said Wednesday.

Rebels and the landowner-backed militias have battled for years in the disputed region of Cordoba, a region of rich farmland that is also a key corridor for illegal arms trafficking from Central America and the Caribbean.

In fighting Monday and Tuesday in Cordoba, FARC rebels also reportedly attacked and overran a major paramilitary stronghold known as Nudo del Paramillo. The militia base was a retreat of a top paramilitary leader, Carlos Castano, whose death was widely rumored in the local media Tuesday.

Castano’s 4,000-member organization has denied the report, and top FARC and army leaders said they had no information to believe the 34-year-old paramilitary leader was dead.

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