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Thursday, 11 April, 2002, 23:24 GMT 00:24 UK
Gunmen kidnap Colombian officials
Police help an officer wounded when suspected rebels dressed in military uniforms burst into a provincial parliamentary building
One police officer was killed in the attack
Gunmen have kidnapped at least 12 Colombian legislators in an attack on the regional assembly in the city of Cali.

The assembly was in session when the armed men entered the building, set off an explosive device and took the officials hostage.

Security forces say they have now rescued five of those kidnapped.

A policeman was reported to have been killed during an exchange of fire.

There is no information on who carried out the attack, but left-wing rebels have staged similar kidnappings in the past.

The BBC's Jeremy McDermott in Colombia says that whoever is responsible, this incident is yet another attack that has stretched the security forces to a breaking point and brought the 38 year civil conflict to its most intense level to date.

Armed raid

Local radio reports said that as many as 25 armed men dressed in military fatigues burst into the assembly meeting.

Posing as a bomb squad, complete with sniffer dogs, the men demanded that the building be evacuated.

FARC rebels
The Colombian authorities suspect FARC rebels are behind the attack
They forced the officials into a vehicle before heading for the outskirts of Cali, Colombia's second largest city.

Confusion increased further when three bombs were set off around the city, helping the kidnappers make their escape.

But an elite anti-kidnap unit known as the Gaula quickly reacted, and managed to rescue five of those taken.

Suspected kidnappers

Initial reports from the Colombian authorities indicate that the FARC - the left-wing Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia - are behind the attack, although no proof has been provided to back this up.

In the past, the FARC have carried out several high profile operations similar to this kidnapping.

Pedestrians run in fear from shooting at the provincial parliamentary building in Cali
Passers-by ran in fear from shooting at the Cali parliamentary building
But since the government broke off peace talks in February, the FARC have changed tactics, launching a bombing campaign aimed principally at infrastructure.

The BBC's Jeremy McDermott says the country's second largest rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), may also be suspect.

The ELN, which has a strong presence in and around Cali, has also carried out similar attacks.

The group kidnapped 150 people from a church in the city and also hijacked a domestic flight in mid-air, kidnapping the passengers and crew.

Cali is notorious for the number of abductions and killings that take place.

Archbishop Isaias Duarte Cancino was killed in the city less than a month ago.

The BBC's Jeremy McDermott
"Authorities suspect the FARC"
See also:

02 Mar 02 | From Our Own Correspondent
Colombia's war without end
17 Mar 02 | Americas
Colombia archbishop murdered
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