BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in:  World: Americas
Front Page 
Middle East 
South Asia 
From Our Own Correspondent 
Letter From America 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Wednesday, 8 May, 2002, 07:43 GMT 08:43 UK
Colombia rebels admit church attack
Rescue workers evacuate victim
Villagers had sought shelter from the fighting
Left-wing rebels in Colombia have admitted firing a home-made mortar bomb at a church which killed up to 117 civilians.

In a statement, a commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) said his group had accidentally hit the church in the north west village of Bojaya last Thursday.

There was never any intention on our part to harm the community

FARC statement
The attack was the deadliest single incident in the country's 38-year-old civil war.

Government troops have finally regained control of the area, which is cut off from land and air by flood waters.

The Colombian president, Andres Pastrana, has asked the United Nations to investigate the killings, while Amnesty International has urged candidates in forthcoming elections to cut ties with paramilitary groups.

Deaths 'lamented'

The villagers who died were among about 300 people who had sought refuge in the church as FARC guerrillas battled with right-wing paramilitaries for control of Bojaya, in Choco province.

At least 45 children were among the victims.

FARC said it "lamented" the deaths but accused the outlawed United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC) of putting civilians in danger.

"There was never any intention on our part to harm the community," the FARC said.

Drugs war

The swampy Choco province has become a key battleground in the fight to control arms and drugs smuggling across the border with Panama.

The area became a target for AUC attacks after rebels took control of the area in March, 2000.

On 1 May, the FARC attacked a boat carrying AUC fighters, triggering fierce clashes between the two sides.

The church was hit as AUC fighters reportedly took up positions in the village.

Government criticised

The Colombian Government said the attack was more evidence of the FARC's descent into terrorism.

FARC fighters
The FARC said right-wing militias put civilians in danger

But the BBC's Jeremy McDermott in Medellin says the government has come under criticism for abandoning Bojaya two years ago and later for ignoring warnings that the community was in grave danger.

The military has also been criticised for taking five days to get to Bojaya, by which time it had become a ghost town.

The AUC is believed to have the tacit support of the Colombian armed forces.

Last week, the United States said the Colombian army had severed links with the AUC, making it eligible for $1.7bn of aid.

See also:

06 May 02 | Americas
Fears grow for Colombian civilians
03 May 02 | Americas
Dozens killed in Colombia attack
27 Feb 02 | Americas
Bush denies Colombia military aid
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Americas stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Americas stories