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Colombian Rebel Army Kills 17

August 2, 1999

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ Leftist rebels attacking a rural police station over the weekend flattened an entire downtown area in a barrage of homemade missiles, killing eight civilians.

Nine police officers also were killed, another eight wounded, and seven more taken prisoner during the three-day siege, which ended Sunday in western Antioquia state. Four of the civilians killed were children.

The civilian casualties were the most in recent memory in an attack by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, the largest of the country’s guerrilla armies. About 300 rebel fighters focused their rampage on a barracks manned by 35 police.

The FARC is engaged in peace talks with President Andres Pastrana, but the negotiations begun in January are proceeding without a cease-fire.

Even before the weekend’s fighting, the FARC held as prisoner more than 450 police and soldiers seized in similar attacks. The group hopes to use the human bounty as a bargaining chip in negotiations to end Colombia’s 35-year conflict.

Although the rebels often attack remote police outposts, the scale of the destruction in Narino _ a sugar and coffee producing town of 4,000 residents _ was astounding.

``I haven’t words for what I’m seeing, the horror,″ state police commander Ruben Carillo told The Associated Press by telephone, soon after reaching the town 100 miles northwest of Bogota Sunday afternoon.

Television images showed the smoking ruins of houses and businesses in a two-block radius surrounding the severely-damaged police barracks. The buildings were reduced to rubble by dozens of missiles fashioned from natural gas canisters.

Carillo said the rebel barrage destroyed 30 homes, the mayor’s office, a bank and a school. The police officers who weren’t killed or taken prisoner by the FARC escaped unhurt or with minor injuries, Carillo said.

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