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Bombs 'revenge against Escobar'

MEDELLIN (AFP) - A group calling itself 'Persecuted by Pablo Escobar' (Pepes) yesterday claimed responsibility for weekend explosions in Medellin in retaliation for a car-bomb blast in Bogota which killed 21 people, and said it would hit back at drug traffickers.

The government has blamed Pablo Escobar, the head of Colombia's powerful Medellin drug cartel, for the Bogota bomb, which devastated a busy shopping street on Saturday. Police said the attack confirmed the start of a new wave of drug-related terrorism. In statement faxed to a Medellin radio station, the previously unknown group said it set off three bombs that rocked Medellin on Saturday and Sunday. Four people were injured in the blasts.

The Pepes group said it would fight violence with violence and would give Escobar, the head of the Medellin cocaine cartel, 'a taste of his own medicine'. It warned Escobar, on the run from Colombian authorities, to think twice about using violence and told him to surrender. Pepes also threatened reprisals against anyone who helped Escobar.

Two bombs exploded on Sunday morning in the area where relatives of the drug baron live. Another car bomb exploded near buildings inhabited by top members of Escobar's drug cartel. Police said 15 heavily armed men - possibly members of the group - raided a ranch owned by Escobar's mother near the town of El Penol and blew up the property's main house after forcing the caretaker to flee.

Police said they believed the statement was genuine and could be linked to the Moncada and Galeano families, former allies who split with Escobar after a bloody internal feud over drug profits. Saturday's car-bomb blast in Bogota was the worst such attack recorded in the Colombian capital since December 1989, when a car-bomb attack on police headquarters killed 64 people.

On 15 January, Escobar warned that he would launch an 'armed struggle' against the government in order to force it to agree to his conditions for surrender.