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Six Kids Killed in Colombia Clash

August 16, 2000

MEDELLIN, Colombia (AP) _ Six schoolchildren hiking in the mountains were killed Tuesday when they were apparently caught in a firefight between government troops and leftist rebels, authorities said.

But an adult who was with the children said that troops opened fire without provocation and there were no guerrillas in the area.

Colombia’s army chief, Gen. Jorge Mora, said the children were caught in the crossfire of a battle with rebels outside the village of Pueblorrico, 40 miles southwest of the city of Medellin.

``The guerrillas mixed in with a group of children, they went behind the group (and) the army did not see them during the exchange of gunfire,″ Mora told journalists after rushing to Pueblorrico to launch an army investigation.

But Fernando Higuita, the husband of one of two teachers accompanying the 30 students, disputed the general’s version.

``What occurred is barbaric. I didn’t see one guerrilla,″ Higuita told The Associated Press by telephone from Pueblorrico’s hospital. ``I am so angry.″

Higuita said he was slightly behind the main body of 30 students and did not directly witness the shootings, but added that he saw only government troops in the area.

Martin Mora, director of the local hospital, confirmed that six children had died and four were wounded. The ages of the children were not immediately available.

The shootings come as the U.S. widens its role in Colombia’s conflict. Some 100 elite U.S. troops recently arrived in Colombia to train army antinarcotics troops. Critics of the aid plan say Washington is tightening ties with a military with a record of human rights abuses.

The rebels were from the National Liberation Army, or ELN, Colombia’s second-largest guerrilla group, police officials said.

Combat between Colombia’s two leftist rebel armies, government troops and police has been intense. At least 27 people have been killed over the past day in bloody clashes between Colombian security forces and rebels from ELN and FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

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