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Leaders Honor Slain Colombia Police

January 10, 2003

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ Family members of police officer Mario Londono were always nervous when the 30-year-old patrolled areas outside the capital.

In an ambush along a rural road, their fears became reality: Londono and seven other police officers were slain by suspected members of a rebel army that has fought the government for nearly 39 years.

``I guess the violence here eventually affects all of us,″ the officer’s brother, Gerardo Londono, said Thursday as he fought back tears at the slain man’s funeral.

Other relatives of Londono openly sobbed, staring at his coffin as it was carried into the police chapel in a service for five of the officers killed by the rebels.

The guerrillas killed the eight officers Tuesday in a pre-dawn ambush on a police convoy as it returned to Bogota from the town of Quipile. The attackers set off explosives on the road, then fired at the officers, who had been returning to the capital after beefing up security during a festival in Quipile.

Police blamed members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, for the attack _ the first on police officers in the new year. More than 230 Colombian police officers were killed while on duty in 2002.

Thursday’s service was attended by thousands, including Colombia’s police and military leadership. Under President Alvaro Uribe, the government has been cracking down on the rebels in a bid to force them to take peace negotiations seriously.

``I want to thank all the families here for the lives of your sons,″ said Defense Minister Martha Lucia Ramirez, speaking quietly at the podium. ``So many men are giving their lives, their health, for the security of Colombians.″

Police officers at the service said the violence underscores the risks of their profession.

``This could have been any one of us,″ said Eric Canar, one of the policemen. ``Every time we go out to work, we accept that we may not come back.″

Gen. Teodoro Campo, director of the national police, hugged relatives of the victims after the service, then saluted the coffins as the hearses left for the cemetery.

``This is the price of searching for peace for Colombians,″ he told reporters.

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