Bomb targeting former Colombian minister kills two

BOGOTA Tue May 15, 2012 4:10pm EDT

1 of 3. Police officers, who are explosives experts, stand at the cordoned scene of an explosion in a central avenue in Bogota May 15, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/John Vizcaino

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BOGOTA (Reuters) - In a rare attack in the Colombian capital Bogota, a bomb targeting a former interior minister on Tuesday killed his driver and a police officer, President Juan Manuel Santos said.

The Andean country has battled left-wing guerrillas, right-wing paramilitary groups and drug lords for decades, but a campaign since 2002 against cocaine traffickers and rebels coupled with the demobilization of paramilitaries has sharply reduced violence.

"We condemn this attack ... this government will not be thrown off course by these terrorist attacks. We will stay the course and carry out all the investigations needed to find the culprits," the center-right president said.

"This was an attack against former minister Fernando Londono. Unfortunately his driver and a police officer have died," Santos added, saying both the victims were accompanying the minister as part of a state protection program.

Londono was interior minister from 2002 to 2004 in the government of former President Alvaro Uribe, who led a crackdown on the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and other armed groups during his eight years in office.

Local television broadcast images of him walking from the scene of the bomb attack with blood covering his face, flanked by a bodyguard carrying a gun.

Local media said more than 20 people were taken to a nearby hospital for injuries sustained in the blast, which was initially reported to have happened on a bus.

Londono later took up journalism and now hosts a radio show and writes opinion pieces for Colombian daily newspapers.

Although substantially weakened by a U.S.-funded military crackdown, the FARC remains a force to be reckoned with.

Its members often stage attacks against police and military installations, set off car bombs in areas already ravaged by drug violence and cause mayhem in remote jungle regions. However, they rarely carry out attacks in the national capital.

Billions of dollars have been invested in oil and mining projects in Colombia over the last five years, thanks largely to better security, and this has driven petroleum and coal production to record levels. Colombia is the world's No. 4 coal exporter.

(Writing by Eduardo Garcia and Helen Popper; Editing by Eric Walsh)

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