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Colombian Guerrillas Ambush Troops, Killing 32

June 18, 1987|From Times Wire Services

BOGOTA, Colombia — Rebels ambushed a military convoy in the jungles of southern Colombia, killing at least 32 soldiers in the worst guerrilla attack against the army in 15 years, the Ministry of Defense announced Wednesday.

Officials said that 25 soldiers were injured and that 10 are missing after Tuesday's attack in the Caqueta jungle region 300 miles south of Bogota.

The four-truck convoy was carrying 67 soldiers to pave a road near the village of Puerto Rico when land mines placed along a 125-yard stretch exploded and the guerrillas opened fire with mortars, grenades and rifles.

"The guerrillas tried to finish off victims lying on the road injured. They got nearly everyone," said a Defense Ministry spokesman, Col. Eduardo Arevalo. "It was the worst guerrilla attack on the army in 15 years."

Initial reports indicated that the guerrilla group could be the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC), which operates in the area but officially has had a truce with the government since 1984.

Controls Wide Area

However, this group has never been known to stage such ambushes. Other observers say the guerrillas could belong to M-19, the largest Colombian guerrilla group, which dropped out of sight since last year.

Members of the FARC 15th Front are known to control wide parts of this jungle area.

The pro-Moscow rebels are the largest, oldest and best organized guerrilla group in Colombia. Its leaders say the group honors the truce, but several clashes with the army have been reported over the past months.

FARC guerrillas have also been accused of guarding coca plantations in Caqueta, a fact verified on several occasions by reporters who traveled there.

They also were reported to have levied a so-called "war tax" on the cocaine being processed by drug traffickers in the area for export to the North American and European markets.

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