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Bomb Kills 10 in Crowded Colombian Street

September 29, 2003|T. Christian Miller | Times Staff Writer

BOGOTA, Colombia — A motorcycle carrying a bomb exploded in a nightclub district in a war-torn region in southern Colombia early Sunday, killing 10 people and wounding more than 50.

Military authorities blamed the 3 a.m. blast in the regional capital of Florencia on leftist guerrillas belonging to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, the country's largest rebel group. The rebels issued no immediate statement on the attack.

The bombing was the worst in Colombia since February, when a suspected FARC bomb planted in a house exploded during a police raid, leveling a neighborhood and killing 16 people.

"I am very sad and depressed by this deplorable act," Florencia Mayor Alvaro Pacheco told local reporters. "It's a lamentable act for civil society."

The bomb exploded while two police officers were inspecting the motorcycle, which was parked in a street crowded with club-goers. The blast killed the two officers, as well as two other police officers working as security guards. At least two children, ages 9 and 15, were among the dead.

Authorities estimated the motorcycle had been packed with about 10 pounds of explosives, which were detonated by remote control.

"Although the explosive wasn't powerful, it caused a lot of casualties because it was placed in front of a disco, which a lot of people were exiting," said army Gen. Luis Ardila.

The bombing was apparently one in a wave of rebel attacks against civilian targets in the last month that seem intended to undermine President Alvaro Uribe, who has claimed in recent months that the Colombian military is gaining ground in the nation's 39-year-old internal conflict.

The attacks come on the eve of Uribe's visit to the United States this week and only a month before a nationwide vote in a referendum on government reforms that Uribe has placed at the center of his agenda.

Since Uribe's election in May 2002, the military has stepped up attacks against the guerrillas, relying on the help of U.S. intelligence and American-trained battalions originally intended to combat narcotics.

The offensive has resulted in increased rebel desertions, captures and deaths, but the guerrillas have responded by unleashing remote-controlled bombs planted in cars, bicycles and even on animals.

Earlier this month, FARC guerrillas were blamed for placing a bomb on a horse that exploded in the middle of a tiny town in north-central Colombia, killing eight people.

On Sept. 15, guerrillas belonging to a smaller group, the National Liberation Army, or ELN, kidnapped eight tourists: four Israelis, two Britons, a Spaniard and a German. One of the British captives escaped. The rest were still being held.

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