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Wednesday, 30 January, 2002, 12:34 GMT
Seven killed in arms raid blast
Rebel bomb attack
The FARC appear to have stepped up violence
At least seven Colombian soldiers have been killed in an explosion as a rebel dynamite store they were trying to storm blew up.

Twenty-two troops are missing after the blast at a house in the town of El Dorado, about 96 kilometres (60 miles) south of the capital Bogota, the army's Fourth Division said in a written statement.

The soldiers were attempting to storm the store, which is thought to have been a hide-out of Colombia's biggest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), when an estimated two tonnes of explosives were detonated.

It is not known whether the blast was an accident or an intentional ambush by the guerrillas.

Four FARC rebels had already been killed and seven captured in the operation, which targeted the rebel group's main explosives stockpile for a bombing campaign targeting electricity pylons in the central Meta region, the army said.

Six wounded soldiers were taken to hospital in the nearby city of Villavicencio.

Despite a deal agreed earlier this month which commits the rebels and government to negotiating a ceasefire by early April, the rebels have recently bombed a water valve at one of Bogota's main reservoirs and staged 50 attacks on power lines.

Car bomb

Shortly after the ill-fated raid, five civilians, including two children, were killed by a remote-controlled car bomb in the southern city of Florencia, an army spokesman said.

FARC rebel
The dump is thought to have held two tonnes of FARC explosives
The explosion was triggered as a military convoy passed through the city's restaurant district.

The army blamed the blast on the FARC, who are known to have a presence in Florencia.

Some analysts say the rebels may have stepped up attacks since this month's peace talks to show that their commitment to the negotiating table does not signal a softening of attitude.

Others say the violence may indicate divisions within the rebel movement.

See also:

30 Jan 02 | Americas
Stalled Colombia peace talks restart
25 Jan 02 | Americas
Bogota bomb kills police
24 Jan 02 | Americas
FARC demands bilateral truce
07 Jan 02 | Americas
Colombia's most powerful rebels
21 Jan 02 | Americas
Last-ditch deal in Colombia
19 Jan 02 | From Our Own Correspondent
The most feared man in Colombia
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