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Saturday, 2 March, 2002, 01:58 GMT
Colombian general quits as rebels attack
Army soldiers with bodies of FARC rebels
Rebels are being pushed out of their stronghold
A Colombian army general has been removed as leftist rebels continue their counter-offensive.

General Gustavo Porras, commander of the 12th military brigade, said he had been obliged to resign by "terrorism" in the southern region of Caqueta.

A power line blown up by FARC troops in El Guamal
Power installations are being targeted by rebels

However, news agency AFP quoting military sources said he had been sacked "due to mistakes" during the army's campaign to seize back the former rebel stronghold.

As fighting continues, the army is reported to have made important gains, entering the last key town held by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

FARC has targeted installations in Caqueta since the army moved to seize its safe haven - an area the size of Switzerland - last week after peace talks broke down.

The rebels have been hitting power lines, bridges and other infrastructure.

On Friday, FARC issued a 10-point communique blaming President Andreas Pastrana for the collapse of peace talks.

In a statement issued on the internet, FARC's leaders accused Mr Pastrana of bowing to the interests of the United States, Colombia's two main political parties and other groups.

Code of honour

A lieutenant colonel, a major and a captain who were all members of General Porras's battalion have also been removed, a defence ministry source told AFP.

They said that a "code of honour" allowed officers accused of mismanagement to resign and retire with full pension.

Caqueta is part of the territory which Mr Pastrana had granted the rebels during peace talks.

Solders guard a dam near Bogota
Troops are guarding water and power supplies

But Mr Pastrana sent the army back into the area last week after members of FARC hijacked a commercial airliner and kidnapped a senator.

Now large parts of the former haven are without electricity, telephone or water and the main town, San Vicente, was cut off after its bridge was bombed.

The effect of the FARC campaign was also being felt in the oil-rich Arauca department.

Its security chief, Colonel Antonio Moyaa, was removed from his post after rebels destroyed a key power transmission station and blacked out the region.

Unconfirmed reports say the army has entered the jungle town of La Uribe - the last key town in the FARC-held area - after a battle with rebels.

Casualty figures are unknown.

See also:

01 Mar 02 | Americas
Colombia decrees war zone
27 Feb 02 | Americas
Bush denies Colombia military aid
22 Feb 02 | Media reports
Colombia's press warns of grim times
16 Nov 00 | Americas
Colombia's peace laboratory
15 Feb 02 | Americas
Timeline: Colombia
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