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Friday, 3 May, 2002, 20:23 GMT 21:23 UK
Dozens killed in Colombia attack
FARC rebels training in Colombia
The attack is said to be one of the deadliest by FARC

The authorities in Colombia say at least 60 civilians have been killed and about 100 others injured in a bomb attack by suspected rebels in a remote western province.

According to witnesses, the victims were killed when guerrillas from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) set off a mortar bomb in a crowded church in the town of Bojaya, in the Choco province.

Residents are thought to have sought refuge inside the church to escape fierce fighting between the left-wing rebels and right-wing paramilitaries.

The scene was one of utter devastation. Local government spokesman, Jorge Caicedo, described the killings as a national tragedy and called for urgent humanitarian help.

Correspondents say it is one of the deadliest attacks by the FARC on civilians in recent years.

Fight for lucrative trade

For several days the FARC guerrillas have been fighting the paramilitaries of the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC) in the dense jungle around the town of Bojaya.

Colombian soldiers
Despite warnings the security forces were nowhere to be seen

Then the fighting moved in the town itself, and the mayor gathered the people into what he thought were the safest places - the church and adjoining square.

The Colombian human rights ombudsman, Eduardo Cifuentes, said that despite advance warnings that the local community was vulnerable to attack, no troop reinforcements had been sent to the area.

The target for the illegal armies is the River Atrato that runs through Choco and on which the town of Bojaya sits.

The BBC correspondent in Colombia says that whoever controls the river also controls the lucrative trade in drugs, arms and contraband that makes its way to and from Panama and the Caribbean coast.

At least 35,000 people have been killed over the last decade of violence in Colombia, and about two million people have fled the country.

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The BBC's Jeremy McDermott
"The chances of dialogue are almost nil"
See also:

27 Feb 02 | Americas
Bush denies Colombia military aid
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