Colombia bomb blast kills 10 as peace hopes fade

A PICK-UP truck packed with 220lbs of dynamite exploded, killing 10 people and maiming 38 others in Medellin, an industrial city in north- west Colombia, as Marxist guerrillas carried out their recent threats to bring the country's 30-year civil war from the jungles into city streets. Four city blocks were reduced to rubble after the blast outside the barracks of the government's anti-kidnapping force. Many of the victims remained in critical condition.

"This is a repugnant and atrocious act," said General Nestor Ramirez, second-in-command of the Colombian army. "It's a demonstration of barbarity.''

Officers believe Friday's bomb was in retaliation for the arrest of seven guerrillas from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), although the rebel negotiator Raul Reyes, denied responsibility.

With an estimated 15,000 troops, FARC is the largest and oldest of the six Colombian guerrilla groups. They fund their arms purchases through kidnapping and, according to Barry McCaffrey, the US anti-drug co-ordinator, links to the narcotics underworld which yield $600m a year.

Until gangster Pablo Escobar was killed in 1993, Medellin was the world trade centre for cocaine. The car bomb was similar to explosions which rocked the city during his terrorist campaign against the Bogota government and nearly as bloody as a 1997 blast in Uraba, which killed 10 and wounded 49.

Mr McCaffrey, a retired general, recently announced that US special forces will train and supply a 1,000-strong Colombian anti-narcotics battalion and said 150 American military advisers are already in the country. But Colombian President Andres Pastrana, elected in November with a mandate to negotiation with the rebels, contradicted the US analysis about FARC's drug connections and rejected rumours about armed intervention by outsiders.

Insurgency has taken 35,000 lives in the past decade and FARC alone now controls over 40 per cent of the country. This week, Bogota tried to revive the peace talks, which were scuttled on 19 July when FARC refused to let outside observers monitor the process.

Colombian political analysts are growing more pessimistic about the chances of success for Mr Pastrana's dialogue, particularly because some rebel groups are excluded and a cease-fire is not required. They fear that the FARC guerrillas are stalling while readying to overthrow the government.

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