Troops 'killed six children'

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The Independent US

President Andres Pastrana of Colombia ordered an investigation yesterday into allegations that troops armed with assault rifles and grenades had ambushed a school group and killed six children.

President Andres Pastrana of Colombia ordered an investigation yesterday into allegations that troops armed with assault rifles and grenades had ambushed a school group and killed six children.

The attack, in which five children were also injured, took place on Tuesday near the town of Pueblo Rico, in the war-torn province of Antioquia, as 60 pupils aged six to 12 strolled through the countryside with teachers and other adults.

The regional army commander, General Eduardo Herrera, initially said the children had been caught in the crossfire during a clash between soldiers and National Liberation Army guerrillas. He accused the insurgents of using the children as "human shields."

But survivors of the ill-fated school trip insisted there had been no guerrillas in the area and that troops had pinned the children down for 45 minutes. One young girl, who declined to be identified, said: "Those who fired at us were soldiers. There were no guerrillas. One soldier started crying and said he had killed innocent children."

Maria Girlesa Villegas, a human rights ombudsman with the regional government, said the pupils had been hit by bullets and shrapnel. She said: "According to first-hand accounts, [the soldiers] were shooting at them for around 45 minutes. A 12-year-old child told me he had seen soldiers but no guerrillas. He felt the soldiers throw something that caused a powerful explosion." Pueblo Rico town councillor Hernando Higuita, who arrived on the scene minutes after he shooting started, insisted there was no cross-fire and that troops, who had clashed with guerrillas earlier in the day, had ambushed the party. Mr Higuita said: "When I shouted to the army not to shoot because these were school children they shot even more. Afterward soldiers came out crying saying they had killed the children."

President Pastrana said: "Today Colombia is in mourning because six children have died in a hail of bullets. How sad it is that here in Colombia parents have to bury their own children. I personally will ensure investigations are carried out to completely clarify who was responsible." (Reuters)

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