9 Colombia's 38-year-old civil war with Roman Catholic  led to Church attack today


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Date: 10/14/02
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9 Colombia's 38-year-old civil war with Roman Catholic led to Church attack today)

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Colombian TV shows images of deadly rebel blast

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Colombians see images of deadly rebel blast :39

Associated PressColombian television has broadcast images of the

rebel attack that killed 117 civilians who were taking refuge in a village

church to try to escape battles between the rebels and paramilitaries.A week after one of the worst bloodbaths in Colombia's 38-year-old civil war, government and Roman Catholic authorities were beginning to piece together accounts of the battle between leftist guerrillas and far-right paramilitaries that engulfed the village of Bojaya and led to the church attack.A commander of the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, said Tuesday the mortar attack last week on the church was accidental.

He accused the paramilitaries of putting the civilians in danger with their presence in the village of Bojaya. More than a third of those killed were children.Colombian television showed civilians removing bodies from the church and showed the damage to the building after a mortar crashed through the roof.Underscoring its lack of control over wide swaths of the South American country, the military was still trying to reach Bojaya on Tuesday.

The village is reported to be strewn with corpses and with wounded awaiting evacuation.The sweltering, swampy region of northwest Colombia is a strategic corridor near the border with Panama that is used by the warring groups to smuggle drugs and black market arms.The residents, most of whom are black descendants of slaves in one of the most neglected areas on the continent, have been caught in the crossfire as the rebels and paramilitaries seek to control the corridor.The FARC attacked Vigia del Fuerte, a town just across the Atrato River from Bojaya, in March 2000, driving out its police force after killing 21 officers.

Once under rebel control, the area became a target for the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC, a brutal right-wing militia group that has acted with the support of elements of the Colombian military.The Roman Catholic diocese in Quibdo said that six boatloads of paramilitary fighters moved into Bojaya and Vigia del Fuerte on April 21.Four days later, the FARC began blocking shipments of food and gasoline to flush out the paramilitaries.

Then, on May 1, the group attacked a paramilitary boat on the river, starting the fighting that drove the villagers of Bojaya into the church.Octaviano Palacio spent a fearful night there, huddled among the pews with his wife, two children and hundreds of other civilians. The next afternoon, with paramilitaries reported to be taking up positions in the town, the rebel mortar round came whistling in."It sounded first like thunder and then felt like an earthquake,'' said Palacio, a 50-year-old farmer.

"I saw my wife, dead, and then began looking for my children.''His 13-year-old daughter and a 10-year-old son died, too, Palacio said from his hospital bed in Quibdo, where he fled after the attack. His arm was disfigured, and shrapnel wounds covered his neck and back.Palacio and other survivors fled into the woods in a daze.

Palacio said he ran into some guerrillas along the way, and remembers with disgust that they told him "We're very sorry.''UN and Colombian human rights monitors had warned of an impending attack a week before it happened, yet no troops were sent to the town.The military defended its late reaction, saying its troops are stretched too thin across Colombia, a vast and rugged country. Back To Top

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