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Friday, February 19, 1999 Published at 10:46 GMT

World: Americas

Battle resumes in Colombia

FARC rebels have suspended peace talks

The Colombia military say that at least 42 soldiers and rebels guerrillas have been killed in fierce fighting in Colombia.

A military spokesman said it was the heaviest fighting seen in the country this year.

At least 12 soldiers, and 30 rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are reported to have been killed.

Twenty others are being treated for wounds in San Vicente in Arauca province.

The clash, near the border with Venezuela, came as President Andres Pastrana was meeting political, business, church and trade union leaders.

He was discussing ways of saving a peace process which he has put at the centre of his administration and is currently deadlocked.

An army spokesman said ground forces were supported by warplanes and helicopter gunships in the battle ground in a rural area of oil-rich Arauca province.

He said it was thought that only FARC guerrillas were involved in the combat.

On Sunday the Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, warned that his armed forces would intervene if the violence spilled over the Colombian border onto Venezuelan territory.

Peace talks were suspended in January by the FARC.

The left-wing guerrillas accused the authorities of failing to tackle right-wing paramilitary groups, who they say form part of the state's undercover counterinsurgency policy.

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