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Colombia pledges tough response to FARC killings
February 17, 2009 / 8:24 PM / 9 years ago

Colombia pledges tough response to FARC killings

By Raymond Colitt and Helen Popper

BRASILIA/BOGOTA, Feb 17 (Reuters) - Colombian President Alvaro Uribe pledged on Tuesday to step up the fight against terrorism after FARC rebels said they executed eight Colombian native Indians for passing intelligence to the army.

"Our decision today is to reinforce our anti-terrorist policies," Uribe said during a visit to Brazil.

"They want to win prestige with some releases, and at the same time they cynically bloody the streets of several Colombian cities with car bombs and cynically assassinate Indians," Uribe said during a joint news conference with his Brazilian counterpart Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Car bombs went off in the city of Neiva in January and in Cali at the start of February, killing two people and wounding 39. The government blamed the FARC, which stands for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

On Tuesday, the FARC took responsibility for the death of eight Awa indigenous people near the border with Ecuador.

"All eight men admitted they had been working with the army for two years in this," the FARC said in a statement posted on a website regularly used by the rebels,

"As a result of the military operations, their responsibility in the deaths of numerous guerrillas and their undeniable active involvement in the conflict, they were executed," the statement said.

The Colombian army, which has been pummeling the guerrillas in the past few years, denied the villagers were spying on the FARC and condemned the group for murders it said would further erode its credibility.

Army chief Gen. Freddy Padilla denied the army had been paying Awa informants.

Dozens of Awa villagers fled their homes following reports that as many as 27 people were killed this month by the leftist rebels, who are fighting a four-decade-old insurgency against the state.

Officials have only found one body in the remote southwestern region where the killings took place.

The United Nations refugee agency says the 21,000-person Awa community -- one of many Indian tribes caught up in conflict -- suffer persistent human rights abuses as a result of fighting between criminal gangs and guerrillas for cocaine-producing land.

Uribe has taken an increasingly hard line against the FARC, despite the Marxist guerrilla group's release two weeks ago of three hostages, a move that raised hopes it could free more.

Brazil provided logistic support in the hostage release.

Uribe last week ordered the army to step up operations to rescue remaining hostages held by the FARC for years and ruled out any deal to swap captives for jailed guerrillas.

The U.S.-backed military drive has pushed the rebels further into the mountains and jungles.

According to the U.N. agency, Colombia's violence has pushed more than a third of Colombia's 87 indigenous tribes to the brink of disappearance. (Additional reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta)

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