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Sunday, 23 June, 2002, 23:56 GMT 00:56 UK
Colombian mayors resign en masse
Special forces soldiers
Officials do not believe soldiers can protect them
Scores of mayors and other local officials have resigned en masse across Colombia after rebels said they would kill them if they stayed in office.

State control in several provinces has been thrown into disarray after the threats to officials by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to quit or be designated "military targets".


We decided the best thing to do was present our resignations, although we know this will generate chaos - but we must save our own lives

Mayor Jose Oscar Gonzalez
The national government has promised army support and told mayors not to be intimidated and another rebel group has said it will kill anyone who does leave their job.

But many local officials have resigned anyway, some saying they have been targeted for supporting President-elect Alvaro Uribe, and all fearful for their lives in Colombia's continuing 38-year civil war.

Mayor murder

In the north-western Antioquia state, 23 mayors handed their resignations to the acting governor.

FARC, which has about 17,000 guerrillas and controls large parts Colombia, killed one of the state's mayor's earlier this month - the eighth civic leader to die this year.

Resignations
Antioquia: 23 mayors
Caldas: 3 mayors
Arauca: 97 officials

The mayors issued a statement saying: "We are being forced to jointly and publicly resign."

Acting Governor Eugenio Prieto was deciding whether to accept the resignations.

"It is difficult, because their lives and [state] institutions are at stake," he said.

Mr Prieto is serving as head of the state because elected Governor Guillermo Gaviria was kidnapped by FARC rebels as he led a peace march in April.

In the northern Santander state, provincial police commander Colonel Jorge Daniel Castro went on the radio to plead with mayors to ignore the threats.

Colombian President-elect Alvaro Uribe
President-elect Alvaro Uribe has pledged cash to fight rebels and poverty
But in Caldas to the west, the mayors of Pensilvania, Samana and Victoria left their jobs.

Pensilvania Mayor Jose Oscar Gonzalez said: "We decided the best thing to do was present our resignations, although we know this will generate chaos.

"But we must save our own lives."

In the north-eastern Arauca province, 97 local officials said they would resign just before the FARC deadline.

But 11 councilmen from Cravo Norte, an oil-producing region of Arauca, said right-wing paramilitaries of the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC) had warned them to stay in office or die.

Peace failure

The government of President Andres Pastrana gave up three years of peace talks with FARC in February after the left-wing rebels staged a spectacular plane hijack to kidnap a senator.

Popular disgust at the failed peace efforts helped Mr Uribe to win the presidential election on 26 May.

Mr Uribe, whom aides say has survived 15 assassination attempts, has promised big increases in spending on defence and to reduce the poverty which feeds violence.

He is scheduled to take office in August.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Clara Rueda, Reporter, El Tiempo
"FARC are asking them to resign or they will face strong measures"

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09 May 02 | Americas
27 May 02 | Americas
27 May 02 | Americas
18 Apr 02 | Americas
07 Jan 02 | Americas
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