Ten passengers massacred by paramilitary gunmen

Travellers shot after bus is seized
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The Independent US

Suspected rightist paramilitary gunmen stopped a bus in western Colombia and executed 10 passengers while gravely wounding another.

Suspected rightist paramilitary gunmen stopped a bus in western Colombia and executed 10 passengers while gravely wounding another.

Some 20 assailants wearing military-style uniforms forced the men off the bus yesterday in a village outside Popayan, the capital of Cauca State located 220 miles from Bogota, and shot them point-blank, state police said.

The killers wielding 9mm and .38-calibre pistols were believed to be members of Colombia's nationwide paramilitary umbrella group, the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia, or AUC.

The attack was the latest in a wave of paramilitary violence this month which has prompted new government pledges to crack down on the AUC. The group is widely alleged to operate with complicity and sometimes direct support from elements within the South American country's military.

President Andres Pastrana's government, meanwhile, announced measures to deprive rightist militias of the money financing their brutal war against suspected leftists.

Curbing army-paramilitary ties and rightist violence are key conditions for Colombia to continue receiving US military aid and training under a $1.3bn counter-drug aid package.

Just two hours after the attack, a high-level commission in Bogota announced that a new "financial brigade" would be created to squeeze wealthy landowners and drug traffickers who illegally finance the outlawed paramilitary gangs.

"This brigade will have computers, not rifles," Defense Minister Luis Fernando Ramirez told a news conference. "But it will be more effective than one that kills or captures illegal armed groups."

Ramirez said prosecutors, money laundering experts, customs, banking officials and security forces will participate in the new unit's efforts to cut off illegal funding to the AUC and guerrilla groups.

A majority of the roughly 3,000 noncombatants killed annually in Colombia's 36-year conflict are villagers accused by paramilitaries of collaborating with the leftists.

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