The Associated Press
April 7, 2001

11 Dead in Colombia Offensive


              BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) -- An offensive by a paramilitary militia this week
              disrupted peace talks with leftist guerrillas and left at least 11 combatants dead,
              authorities said on Saturday.

              Clashes between the right-wing paramilitary AUC and National Liberation Army
              rebels began Tuesday when some 800 AUC fighters attacked guerrilla positions in
              the southern part of Bolivar State, army Gen. Martin Carreno said.

              At least seven guerrillas and four paramilitary fighters were killed in the fighting that
              ended on Friday, he said.

              The offensive near guerrilla base camps also prevented ELN commanders from
              attending peace talks on Thursday with civilian negotiators, a spokeswoman from
              government peace envoy Camilo Gomez's office said.

              The fighting took place just outside a 1,900 square-mile zone the government of
              President Andres Pastrana appears on the verge of temporarily ceding to the
              guerrillas to begin formal peace negotiations.

              The military recently yanked troops from the region after guerrillas complained that
              military operations were making it impossible for them to meet with government

              In a letter posted Thursday on the AUC's internet site, paramilitary chief Carlos
              Castano said a stronghold for the rebel group -- the second largest in Colombia --
              would inflame the 37-year armed conflict. He said his fighters were only ``trying to
              do what the army has been prevented from doing.''