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Gunmen Take Kids From Center

July 19, 2001

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ Hooded gunmen identifying themselves as right-wing paramilitary fighters forced their way into a youth detention center on Wednesday and took away 10 minors as war recruits, officials said.

During the takeover, the gunmen gave a speech to the roughly 40 young people at the center _ in the eastern city of Villavicencio _ to try and convince them to join the rightist United Self Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC.

When only three of the young inmates volunteered, the gunmen grabbed seven others by force, according to Mauricio Henao, the director of the lightly-guarded rehabilitation center.

The youths taken away were all between 15 and 17 years old, and were detained for crimes ranging from homicide to membership in armed rebel groups.

Some 6,000 minors are believed to be participating as soldiers in Colombia’s 37-year war. Leftist guerrillas recruit the largest number of children, however rival paramilitaries have also been known to employ child soldiers.

Separately, officials Wednesday reported the deaths of 10 young coca pickers in two massacres last week in a northeastern cocaine-producing region. The killings occurred in an area of Norte de Santander rife with guerrillas and paramilitaries who earn profits by taxing the region’s booming drug trade.

Also Wednesday, the governor of Cauca state said three German citizens were kidnapped in the southeast of Colombia, presumably by guerrillas. Floro Tunubala said the Germans were in a rural area in Silvia, 210 miles southeast of Bogota, while advising peasants in agricultural projects.

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