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Friday, March 6, 1998 Published at 20:55 GMT



World: Americas

Colombian President admits casualties
image: [ Army admits casualties are high ]
Army admits casualties are high

The Colombian President, Ernesto Samper, has admitted that the army was hit hard by left-wing rebels during fighting in the south of the country this week.

Mr Samper, who was visiting a military base near the combat zone in the region of Caqueta, said there had been major casualties.

According to military sources, at least 100 people were killed.


[ image: Reinforcement sent to the area]
Reinforcement sent to the area
A spokesman for the rebels told the BBC that 70 of the dead were soldiers, which if confirmed, would be the worst single loss for the army in forty years of anti-guerrilla operations.

"Fighting is intense and is continuing day and night," said General Fernando Tapias, the second in command of Colombia's army.

"In combat of this magnitude the number of casualties is high."

If the figure is confirmed, it would be the biggest defeat for the military in 40 years of anti-guerrilla operations.

The previous worst rebel attack was in April 1996 when the the rebels ambushed an army patrol along an oil pipeline in the southwest, killing 31 troops.

The fighting, in the remote region of Caqueta, comes only days before parliamentary elections in Colombia.

The rebels, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have called for a boycott of the vote.


[ image: Thousands of election candidates]
Thousands of election candidates
In October, they called a boycott of municipal elections, killing 36 candidates and kidnapping 300. More than 1,000 candidates withdrew from the poll in fear for their lives.

There are an unprecedented number of candidates running in Sunday's legislative vote, with 3,190 candidates from across the political spectrum for the 102 Senate seats.

A further 4,542 people are running for the 161-seat Chamber of Deputies.

More than 35,000 civilians have been killed in the last decade in Colombia's guerrilla war.


 





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