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Last Updated: Monday, 21 April, 2003, 05:21 GMT 06:21 UK
Colombia's holiday violence surges

By Jeremy McDermott
BBC correspondent in Medellin, Colombia

Colombian procession
Police have been unable to protect ordinary Colombians
Security forces have been unable to contain rebel attacks despite a promise guaranteeing the safety of Colombians to travel and enjoy the Holy Week holiday.

Fifteen people were kidnapped on Sunday, a town was placed under siege and heavy fighting was continuing with Marxist rebels, leaving at least 22 dead, mostly guerrillas.

General Jorge Enrique Mora, the commander of the armed forces, assured Colombians they had nothing to fear and encouraged them to travel during the Holy Week holiday.

Tens of thousands of people took him at his word.

But he has been unable to keep his promise.

Pitched battles

Of the 15 people kidnapped by suspected Marxist guerrillas, eight were taken from an island just off the coast in the Caribbean where they were enjoying a long weekend.

Seven more were taken as they drove home in the northern province of La Guajira.

The town of Dolores, in the central province of Polima, which suffered a rebel attack on Good Friday when guerrillas opened fire on a religious procession, is still under siege and the security forces have been unable to break through.

In the northern province of Antioquia, there are pitched battles between guerrillas and the security forces.

The assurance by the army that it could protect Colombians during the holiday was taken as a challenge by the country's 20,000 rebels, and they responded by launching operations across the country.

The guerrilla aim is simple - to show Colombians that the promises of hardline President Alvaro Uribe to crush the insurgency and restore order is a pipe-dream.

And they aim to show the government, which broke off peace talks in February last year, must be forced to sit down again at the negotiating table on terms set out by the rebels.

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