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Wednesday, 26 June, 2002, 00:49 GMT 01:49 UK
Colombia mayors to get bulletproof vests
Bogota Mayor Antanas Mockus with his bodyguards
The mayor of Bogota will minimise public appearances
The Colombian Government has offered bodyguards and bulletproof vests to town mayors, after left-wing rebels threatened to kill any who do not resign.

The country's largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), has contacted more than 100 town mayors, warning them to quit or become targets.


It is a double sabotage of both the economy and the democratic institutions

Mayor Antanas Mockus
Around 25 of them have already resigned, saying their lives and families are more important than the job.

Our South America correspondent says the FARC seems to be changing tactics to drive out civilian authority from the areas it controls.

Colombia's national human rights ombudsman, Eduardo Cifuentes, has called the threat the gravest by leftist rebels in Colombia's history.

'Reinforcing security'

Eight mayors have already been killed this year, including one who was on his way to talk to his colleagues about the threats.

The defence minister has offered to let mayors work from within their local barracks, but many of them say they and their staff - who have also received threats - cannot do the job unless they are among the people.

FARC rebels
Large areas of the countryside are under FARC control
The mayor of the capital, Bogota, said the FARC's new tactic was a "double sabotage of both the economy and the democratic institutions".

But unlike some of his colleagues Mayor Antanas Mockus has vowed to stay on.

"I am reinforcing security and minimising public appearances," he told the Associated Press news agency.

The outgoing President, Andres Pastrana, has now promised to provide mayors with bulletproof vests, armoured cars and bodyguards.

The American Embassy in Bogota said much of the protection would be paid for by the United States, according to AP.

The FARC controls vast areas of the countryside, where they are locked in battles with right-wing paramilitaries, and correspondents say it is almost impossible for the government to guarantee security.

The president-elect, Alvaro Uribe - who is due to take office in August - has pledged to take a crack down hard on the rebels in a bid to end four decades of civil war.


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