FARC wipes out 28 troops on coca-eradication mission

From the Financial Times, Dec. 28:

Colombian insurgents have killed 28 soldiers in the deadliest attack on the military since President Alvaro Uribe was elected three years ago, setting the stage for heightened tensions ahead of elections in May.

The assault by 300 rebels from the leftwing Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) took place on Tuesday near the Sierra Macarena national park, in the province of Meta, south-east of Bogotá, the capital. Farc guerrillas opened fire when 80 troops were trapped in an area sown with anti-personnel mines, the military said, hampering rescue efforts.

Yesterday Mr Uribe was expected to inspect the area in person, Caracol radio reported, and order the dispatch of military reinforcements to the region, which has long been a Farc stronghold.

The ambush, which also left six soldiers injured and one missing, is the type of high-profile attack that military analysts had warned that the Farc would try to mount ahead of presidential elections scheduled for next May.

Mr Uribe, who will run as the favourite candidate according to opinion polls, is strongly backed by a majority of Colombians and the US, for his policies designed to restore security to a country plagued by violence.

But, while he has presided over a halving in the frequency of kidnappings, a tactic favoured by Farc, Tuesday’s massacre will reinforce the view of critics who say that his flagship “democratic security” programme has its limits.

Farc has sought, unsuccessfully, to overthrow the state for more than 40 years, but its permanence is in part due to the bountiful resources it enjoys from its control over part of the cocaine trade.

Camilo Ospina, the Colombian defence minister, said that the 28 soldiers had been protecting workers eradicating coca, the plant from which cocaine is derived.

See our last post on Colombia.