Colombian Troops Pursue Rebel Kidnappers; Two Soldiers, TV Crew Killed
BOGOTA, Colombia – Government troops pursued rebel kidnappers through the mountains outside Colombia's third-largest city Friday, a day after guerrillas stormed a provincial parliament in Cali and abducted 12 lawmakers.
Two soldiers were killed in clashes with the rebel column late Thursday, an army spokesman said. A cameraman and a driver from a television crew were also killed when they drove into fighting between guerrillas and troops. It was not immediately clear which side had fired at the crew from local RCN television.
The driver was killed immediately in Thursday's attack; the cameraman, shot in the leg and rushed to a hospital, died from his wounds on Friday.
Thursday's mass kidnapping, during which rebels slit the throat of a police officer who resisted, was one of the most audacious actions by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, in its 38-year war against the government.
"This generates a very big psychological impact in the population. It makes the people feel defenseless," said former national security adviser Armando Borrero. "It was a very ingenious strike."
Guerrillas gained entry to the legislature by posing as an army bomb squad responding to a threat. They then ushered frightened legislators into a stolen bus and drove them into the mountains.
Government officials appealed for calm Friday while pledging no letup in the pursuit of the kidnappers.
"Colombians are stronger than the bandits of the FARC and we are not going to be brought to our knees," said army chief Gen. Jorge Mora, commander of the rescue operation.
Mora said the operations had an "an offensive spirit" but also considered the hostages' safety.
In cell phone conversations with television stations Friday, one of the hostages, Valle de Cauca State assembly president Juan Carlos Narvaez, pleaded for the military to stop its pursuit, saying it could endanger the hostages.
Narvaez said the captive lawmakers all were in good health. He asked the Red Cross to try to arrange their release.
There were no public demands by the FARC or claims of responsibility in the Cali attack. But the rebel group has been kidnapping politicians in hopes of trading them for jailed rebels and Narvaez's wife, Fabiola Perdomo, said the FARC was responsible, confirming officials' suspicions.
Since peace talks collapsed in February with President Andres Pastrana's government, the FARC also has bombed infrastructure targets.
A rocket fired by men on a motorcycle landed just behind offices of RCN TV in Bogota late Friday, causing damage to a neighboring building, city police said. Officials did not say who was responsible or whether they believe the station was the target.
Also Friday, Colombia's military protested a high court ruling against broader war powers, saying the decision would weaken the government in its fight against guerrillas.
"The Colombian government has been denied a tool of vital importance in the fight against crime," said defense minister Gustavo Bell.
The Constitutional Court on Thursday struck down a law signed by Pastrana last year, giving him power to decree martial law zones where the military would have authority over the civilian government.
Pastrana, who broke off peace talks with the FARC in February following an escalation in rebel attacks, is scheduled to meet President Bush in Washington next week and discuss plans for expanding U.S. aid to help counter the guerrilla threat.