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Friday, 14 February, 2003, 09:31 GMT
US plane crashes in Colombia
A US soldier instructs Colombian troops
US troops have been training Colombian soldiers
Two US citizens are dead after an American Government plane crash-landed in territory held by Marxist rebels in the south of Colombia.

Find those men and find them now

President Alvaro Uribe
The American Embassy has refused to confirm whether or not its citizens died during the landing or were killed afterwards.

Two other Americans and a Colombian aboard were missing when troops reached the plane's burning wreckage near Florencia, Caqueta Province, 380 kilometres (235 miles) south of the capital Bogota.

Map of Colombia showing Bogota and Florencia
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has called an urgent meeting of his senior commanders and issued a single order: "Find those men and find them now".

Contact was lost with the single-engine Cessna Caravan at 0900 (1400 GMT) - just minutes before a scheduled landing, Colombia's Civil Aviation agency said.

"We believe it had engine trouble and it was attempting to make an emergency landing in Florencia," a US State Department official in Washington said.

'We have them!'

The US Embassy would not say what mission the plane had been engaged in when it came down in territory largely controlled by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Colombian military officials quoted by the Associated Press say they intercepted a rebel radio message which appeared to indicate they had abducted people from the plane.

"We have them! We have them!" a rebel was reportedly heard saying in the intercepted transmission.

The FARC itself has issued no statement on the incident.

Rebel control

Colombia's rebel groups have a long history of abducting people for ransom.

While Colombian Government's forces largely control the region's towns, rebels still hold sway over much of the countryside.

America is actively supporting the Colombian Government's anti-drug operations in the coca fields around Florencia as well as combating the rebels.

In July 1999, an American spy plane monitoring the skies and intercepting communications traffic crashed into a mountainside in Colombia, killing the seven men on board, five of them US military personnel.

The BBC's correspondent in Colombia, Jeremy McDermott, says American involvement in Colombia is increasing as President Bush includes this Andean nation in his international war on terrorism.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jeremy McDermott
"It was on an intelligence mission"

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09 Feb 03 | Americas
07 Feb 03 | Americas
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