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Saturday, 19 October, 2002, 02:53 GMT 03:53 UK
Tense calm returns to Colombian city
Soldiers on patrol in Medellin
Back in charge - but for how long?
Fighting has ended in Colombia's second-largest city after a major operation by security forces to eject leftist rebels from a slum district.

Residents of Medellin's Comuna 13 district began emerging from their homes after two days of street battles in which at least 11 people were killed.

Rescue worker in Medellin
A four-year-old girl was among civilians injured in the operation
Soldiers and police are still searching houses using hooded informants to point out suspected guerrillas in the district which the authorities believe was a rebel stronghold.

The surprise operation has resulted in 176 arrests and the freeing of 14 rebel hostages, according to police figures.

It was ordered by President Alvaro Uribe, a native of Medellin, who pledged to crack down on violence when he was elected earlier this year.


Those guys [the rebels] are still here - they could start again any minute now

Comuna 13 resident
As a tense calm returned, one resident who spoke to Reuters news agency warned that the rebels had not left:

"Look, be very careful walking around here. Those guys are still here - they could start again any minute now."

The BBC's Jeremy McDermott reports from the city that some fear the rebels will resume control once the overstretched security forces are redeployed.

'Madness'

Correspondents say the urban warfare marks a new phase in Colombia's 38-year-old civil war which has generally been confined to the countryside.

President Uribe ordered the crackdown by more than 3,000 soldiers and police as part of his ongoing policy priority to increase security in Colombia.

Map of Colombia showing Bogota and Medellin
The dead include four members of the security forces, five rebels and two civilians.

President Uribe - who visited Medellin to assess the operation with his defence minister - said the deaths were regrettable.

"This is madness. I believe this really brings home to us how Colombia needs to overthrow violence," he said.

Another reminder of the rebels' presence in the cities came when police in the capital, Bogota, seized more than 100 powerful explosive devices.

At least nine suspected members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) were arrested during police operations in three areas of the city.

'Stronghold'

Comuna 13 is home to about 100,000 people.

In recent years, Colombia's two main leftist rebel groups - FARC and the National Liberation Army (ELN) - have been fighting for control of the slum neighbourhoods of Medellin.

The rebels have also been fighting outlawed right-wing paramilitaries.

According to human rights groups, between 300 and 400 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in fighting this year in Medellin, a city of two million.

The hostages freed during this week's operation include 13 members of the same family whose house rebels were using as a shelter.

Neighbours realised that something was amiss and informed the police, who raided the house.

The other hostage was a female student whose family had been asked to pay a huge ransom.


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09 Sep 02 | Americas
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