Colombia army, rebel clashes leave 102 dead

BOGOTA, Colombia, AP

Heavy fighting between Colombian troops and leftist rebels this week killed 87 guerrillas and 15 soldiers, most in a fierce daylong battle in a northwestern mountain region, the army chief said.

The bloodiest battle came when the army attacked rebels before dawn Tuesday near the village of Puerto Libertador, 400 kilometers (250 miles) northwest of Bogota, army commander Gen. Fernando Tapias said.

About 60 rebels and 13 government troops died in more than 24 hours of fighting in the mountainous area, Tapias told a news conference Wednesday. Government troops were pursuing surviving rebels, many of whom were believed to be wounded, Tapias said.

Most of the rebels involved in the clashes belonged to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, the army chief said.

The clashes were the biggest since a June 22 battle in southern Putumayo state in which 30 government soldiers and at least 26 FARC rebels died.

Fighting also occurred this week in Huila state in the south, in Antioquia and Cordoba states in the northwest and Arauca and Santander states in north-central and eastern Colombia.

Also Wednesday, police clashed with protesting farmers who have blocked major highways in Colombia.

The farm protests left several police officers and farmers bloodied, but no serious injuries were reported.

Police used armored trucks and tear gas to disperse the protesters, but strike organizer Jorge Robledo said the protesters “will resist until the last minute.”

A FARC spokesman Raul Reyes said on the radio that the rebels support the protesters.

Police Gen. Tobias Duran said leftist rebels shot out the tires of several vehicles to help protesters create a blockade Tuesday night near Alto del Trigo, 30 miles (48 kilometers) northwest of Bogota.

In the town of Ventaquemada, 100 kilometers (60 miles) northeast of Bogota, eight police officers were injured during a confrontation with protesters on a highway leading north from the capital, Duran said.

Several highways in nine states remained blocked.

The protesters — primarily coffee growers, sugar, potato and grain farmers and cattle ranchers — began blocking highways on Monday and are demanding price supports, fewer food imports and debt forgiveness.

Colombia’s 37-year civil war, primarily fought in the countryside, has seriously damaged the agricultural sector.