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A Bid to Murder a Nation

July 01, 2002

Resign or die. That's what Colombia's narco-guerrillas have told the nation's municipal officials. The intention is just as clear as the threat: The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, wants to discredit the government by making it unable to protect democratic rule.

The threat "to kidnap or kill" officials who refused to resign was issued directly to some officeholders, as well as in a news interview of FARC's military commander at his hide-out in the mountains of Cundinamarca near Bogota.

The government has a duty to stand up to the rebels. And it obviously can't wait for President-elect Alvaro Uribe to take office next month.

As Times staff writer T. Christian Miller reported Saturday, the government's battle in parts of rebel territory may be all but lost, at least for now. City councils have resigned, judges and mayors have fled, police are gone. Urban centers survive on a heavy military presence.

As for the rest of the municipalities, the government should evaluate the levels of risk and provide the most protection to the most-endangered officials. A few may have to hole up in army garrisons for a while.

This is not the first time the government has endured threats by the guerrillas, who act increasingly like the forces of the late Cambodian butcher Pol Pot. In their 38 years of war against the people of Colombia, FARC comandantes have burned voting cards to disrupt elections, exploded car bombs on busy streets, blown up bridges, knocked down power lines and blocked roads to create economic chaos. During a fight in May with right-wing paramilitaries in Bellavista, guerrillas killed 119 civilians, including 46 children, who had sought shelter in a church.

The new threat is bigger, aimed at the heart of the democratic process.

Anne Patterson, U.S. ambassador to Colombia, has offered armored cars, bulletproof vests and telephones to mayors and other Colombian civil employees.

Such assistance from the United States should help some. But what Colombia needs most are signs of solidarity from its neighboring countries.

The people and the governments of Brazil, Venezuela, Panama, Ecuador and Peru must unequivocally condemn this latest provocation of the FARC. One of them could be next if the narco-bandits get away with murdering a democracy.

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