New Colombian President Decrees Emergency Measures to Fight Rebel Attacks

President Alvaro Uribe, trying to combat rebel attacks that have killed dozens since his inauguration, issued an emergency declaration Monday that lets his government boost its security forces and increase taxes to pay for it.

Uribe issued the decree after an emergency Cabinet meeting late Sunday. He declared a "state of internal commotion," which authorizes the government to take special measures but falls short of a state of siege, which likely would have meant new restrictions on civil liberties.

"We all have to be aware that a regime characterized by terror means extreme instability in Colombia," said Fernando Londono, interior and justice minister, who announced the decree just after midnight. "For this reason, the government has decided to declare a state of internal commotion."

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, is blamed for killing 19 Colombians in a mortar attack on downtown Bogota as Uribe was being inaugurated last Wednesday. Colombia's largest guerrilla group is also being held responsible for numerous bomb attacks leading up to and after the inauguration.

The declaration invokes a provision in the constitution that allows the government to take special measures when there is a threat to "institutional stability, state security or citizen well-being."

The emergency decree can be applied for 90 days, then reactivated for two more periods of 90 days, the second of which must be authorized by Congress.

Steps will be taken immediately to increase the size of the army and police force, said Defense Minister Martha Lucia Ramirez. About 10,000 more police officers will be hired and two army brigades of 3,000 soldiers each will be added, she said.

Uribe also plans to create a million-strong civilian force of "supporters" to help inform police and the army of rebel and paramilitary activity.

These plans will be financed by a new tax, said Finance Minister Roberto Junguito. There are no plans to emit war bonds, for now, he said.

Uribe has emphasized the need for stricter laws to face the crisis in Colombia, ravaged by a 38-year civil war that pits rebels against the government and illegal paramilitaries.