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The BBC's Jeremy McDermott in Bogota
"The line between the drug war and the civil war is now totally blurred"
 real 28k

Sunday, 17 September, 2000, 23:34 GMT 00:34 UK
Fierce fighting in Colombia
US officers with seized cocaine
US officials recently seized $1bn of Colombian cocaine
The army in Colombia says fierce fighting has broken out with left-wing rebels in the north-west of the country.

An army spokesman said casualties had been heavy on both sides. At least 19 government soldiers are said to have been killed and a number of others are missing.

The clashes with rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) are reported to be around the town of Dabeiba, in the Uraba region. Reports say government troops are being backed by US-made helicopter gunships and the clashes are continuing.

The fighting coincides with the visit to the country of a top US general to help co-ordinate the use of US military aid.

Major supply route

The Uraba - once a guerrilla stronghold - has been taken over by right-wing paramilitaries and the latest action is part of a continued campaign by the Farc to regain the strategic area which commands a major supply route to the Caribbean and the border with Panama.

Coca growers
Colombia produces 80% of the world's cocaine
The BBC Colombia correspondent says the area is very rich and whoever controls it also gains revenue from the drugs, arms and contraband that pass through it.

General Peter Pace, the new chief of US Southern Command, responsible for Latin America, is visiting Colombia.

The US has granted a $1.3bn package of mainly military aid to help the beleaguered Colombian Government as it battles left-wing rebels, right-wing paramilitaries and drug traffickers that between them control at least half of the country.

A blurred line

Our correspondent says the aid is designed for the war against drugs, but since all the warring factions earn most of their income from the trade in drugs, the line between the drug war and the civil war is now totally blurred.

Colombia is the source of 80% of the world's cocaine and a leading supplier of the heroin sold to the US.

The fighting in Colombia's is estimated to have killed 35,000 since 1990. Both sides routinely exaggerate enemy casualties and minimise their own.

The Farc, founded as a pro-Soviet Marxist guerrilla force in the 1960s, is Latin America's largest and oldest rebel army.

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See also:

09 Sep 00 | Americas
Hijacked Colombian plane released
07 Sep 00 | Americas
Drug submarine found in Colombia
29 Aug 00 | Americas
US commits to Colombia
27 Aug 00 | Americas
Major drugs cartel smashed
08 Jun 00 | World
My story: The drug smuggler
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