The Miami Herald
Aug. 18, 2003

Colombian leader unhurt as rebels fire at his helicopter

  Associated Press

  BOGOTA, Colombia - Suspected rebels fired from the mountains at President Alvaro Uribe's helicopter Sunday as he arrived at a village in northwestern Colombia, the president's spokesman said.

  No one was injured in the attack at Granada village in Antioquia state, said Ricardo Galán, Uribe's spokesman. None of the shots reached Uribe's helicopter, which immediately flew out of Granada to a military base in the nearby town of Rionegro.

  A security plane flying nearby fired back into the mountains. It was not clear whether any of the attackers were killed, Galán said.

  After authorities regained control in Granada, Uribe returned for his planned event -- handing over new homes and businesses to victims of a rebel attack in December 2000 that devastated the village and killed 29 residents.

  Speaking to Granada residents, Uribe said that continuing violence by the rebels makes negotiations with them impossible.

  ''As long as the guerrillas maintain their arrogance -- which stems from rifles, car bombs and money from coca -- dialogue with them is not possible,'' Uribe said. ``They must feel that the state is going to defeat them.''

  Coca is the base ingredient of cocaine.

  A nurse's aide at the Granada hospital said she heard gunshots and an explosion as the president's entourage, which included Environmental Minister Cecilia Rodriguez, arrived. Once Uribe returned, though, she said things were calm.

  First lady Lina Moreno, who had accompanied her husband on the initial flight into Granada, remained in Rionegro, Galán said.

  Authorities blamed members of the nation's largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, who operate in the region, which is 125 miles northwest of Bogotá. The FARC has attempted several times to assassinate Uribe.

  The 2000 attack on Granada was carried out by about 400 FARC rebels, who used a car bomb and other explosives against the police. The attack destroyed 200 homes and damaged more. It took $1.6 million to rebuild the village, the president's office said.