August 11, 2002

Colombian troops kill paramilitary fighters

BOGOTA, Colombia (Reuters)--Colombian government troops killed 20 right-wing
paramilitary fighters in a weekend gun battle in the country's northwestern mountains,
the army said.

Saturday's combat took place days after President Alvaro Uribe took office on
pledges to crack down on illegal armed groups fighting in Colombia's 38-year-old

The fighting occurred near Segovia, a town in Antioquia province some 186 miles
(300 kilometers) north of the capital, Bogota, said Gen. Martin Orlando Carreno.
The army also captured 17 right-wing paramilitaries, Carreno said.

The paramilitaries are a 10,000-strong vigilante force that fights leftist rebels and
suspected civilian sympathizers.

Paramilitary commander and founder Carlos Castano announced last month that his
United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia had disbanded as a national umbrella group
because he no longer had control over all fighters. Since then, the group has broken
into regional forces with no central command.

The paramilitaries were created by wealthy landowners and cattle ranchers but have
grown rapidly in recent years.

Human rights organizations have accused the army of cooperating with
paramilitaries as part of a dirty war against rebels. Rights activists fear Uribe's
hard-line anti-rebel stance will encourage paramilitaries to go on a rampage.

But Uribe has said he will fight paramilitaries with the same determination as rebels.
Defense Minister Marta Lucia Ramirez pledged Saturday that the military will "attack
guerrillas and paramilitaries who are sowing terrorism in our country."

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