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Thursday, 21 February, 2002, 22:52 GMT
Colombia bombs rebel enclave
Colombian soldiers prepare to retake the FARC's zone
Pastrana ordered troops to retake the rebels' haven
The Colombian air force has begun bombing a rebel-held enclave, hours after the government broke off peace talks and vowed to retake the area.

Thousands of troops moved towards the territory after Colombian President Andres Pastrana ordered the military to root out the guerrillas.


The guerrillas have been unmasked and have shown their true face

President Andres Pastrana
It followed the abduction of a national senator on Wednesday, after his jet was hijacked and flown to a rural area close to the rebels' territory.

In a televised address, President Pastrana said he was calling off three-year old peace talks and putting "an end to the demilitarised zone" in the south of the country which he ceded to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in 1998.

The Colombian military said warplanes and helicopters had flown more than 200 sorties out of Apiay air base in Meta Province and dropped 500lb (225kg) bombs on FARC positions around the town of San Vicente.

Click here for a map of the FARC's safe haven

Officials said 85 rebel targets had been hit.

They were likely to have included clandestine air strips used to traffic cocaine, commander hide-outs and drug labs.

Residents in San Vicente said guerrillas had driven off from the town and into the jungles after watching the president's broadcast.

San Vicente was reported to be calm after the night-time and early morning strikes.

Rebels accused

Residents inside the zone reported that FARC patrols had disappeared from the streets.

President Andres Pastrana
Pastrana said the FARC could not negotiate in good faith

The Switzerland-sized enclave was given to the rebels as a safe haven when peace talks with the government began more than three years ago.

In a statement, the FARC blamed the collapse of the peace talks on the president and what it called Colombia's "oligarchy".

"The banners of peace with social justice belong to the Colombian people and will remain in their hands," the group said through its news agency ANNCOL.

President Pastrana, visibly angry and wagging his finger, told the nation: "The FARC broke its word... To make peace you need two partners... Colombia says 'No more'."

Senator seized

The decision to retake the zone came after gunmen seized an Aires airlines flight carrying opposition senator Jorge Gechem Turbay.

Government troops surround hijacked plane
Guerrillas abducted the senator after seizing his jet

The hijackers ordered the pilot to divert the Dash-8 Turboprop plane, which was en route from Neiva to Bogota, and forced him to land on a two-lane highway near the town of Hobo, 45km (27 miles) south of Neiva.

Passengers said dozens of guerrillas were waiting for the plane and took Mr Turbay away in the direction of the FARC's enclave.

"There were 50 or 70 guerrillas waiting for us on the ground when we landed," one male passenger told local television.

Raul Reyes, a spokesman for the FARC, said he knew nothing about the abduction, Reuters news agency reported.

But the president called the hijacking "an international offence classified as terrorism", adding "Today the glass of indignation spilled over".

Earlier this year, the government pulled back from storming the rebel-held zone at the last minute after the FARC agreed to start negotiations to reach a ceasefire by 7 April.



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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Sue Haley
"Hundreds of sorties have begun hitting rebel targets"
See also:

15 Feb 02 | Americas
Timeline: Colombia
30 Dec 00 | Americas
Colombia peace mediator killed
19 Feb 02 | Americas
Colombia thwarts rebel dam attack
21 Feb 02 | Americas
Colombian army moves against rebels
16 Nov 00 | Americas
Colombia's peace laboratory
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