Thirty-five people killed over the weekend in Colombia

BOGOTA, Colombia - A surge of rebel violence left 35 people dead over the weekend following President Clinton's visit to Colombia, including seven police officers slain by guerrillas - some of whom were disguised as police.

In the latest attack, leftist guerrillas from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, sneaked up on a police station Saturday in northern Colombia, officials said Sunday.

The assault took the small town of Tomarrazon by surprise, said National Police operations director Gen. Tobias Duran.

The guerrillas arrived in three trucks and a jeep, some dressed in camouflage and others as police. Rebels shot to death the four officers posted at the station and ambushed reinforcements as they arrived, killing three more policemen, Duran added.

Nine officers survived the attack, in which rebels also destroyed the public telephone office in the town in Guajira State, about 475 miles from the capital, Bogota.

At least one FARC fighter died, police said.

Twenty-seven other people were killed in heavy overnight clashes that ended Saturday in western Colombia. Twelve of them were FARC rebels.

Seven airmen died when their U.S.-built AC-46 gunship, which was sent to support ground troops, slammed into an Andean peak. At the mountaintop communications complex they were protecting, eight soldiers died in fighting with guerrillas.

The rebels were unable to take the complex, which controls cellular and other telephone links to much of western Colombia.

Clinton's visit to the war-torn South American country was meant to support President Andres Pastrana's fight against drug traffickers and leftist rebels who protect drug crops. U.S. and Colombian officials hope the $1.3 billion anti-narcotics aid package will weaken the rebels and push them toward peace by cutting into a major income source: taxes the FARC levies on the cocaine trade.

But some critics have said the aid, including helicopters and troop training, is skewed toward the Colombian military, leaving police forces increasingly vulnerable.

The FARC has stepped up attacks on rural police stations during the past two months, killing dozens of officers as well as civilians. At least 231 police have died in the line of duty this year.

FARC attacks continue nationwide despite peace talks begun with Pastrana in January 1999. The negotiations to end a 36-year conflict are proceeding slowly and without a cease-fire.

On Sunday, the Colombian navy intercepted a speedboat off its Pacific coast on Sunday and seized three tons of cocaine, the navy said. Two people were arrested in the operation, which turned up more than a hundred packages stuffed with cocaine.


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