Panamanians fear foreign rebels
JAQUE, Panama — Arriving in helicopters and
carrying machine guns, police are beefing up patrols in the remote villages
of Panama's southern border amid
reports that Colombian rebels and paramilitary gunmen are hiding there.
National Chief of Police Carlos Bares said officials don't want to clash with the Colombians — just to make sure the area is secure.
"We want them to take the problems of their country and leave us in peace," he said.
Panamanians living along the border are nervous. Teachers in Biroquera, with more than 300 residents, abandoned their classrooms for a while, and farmers are
afraid to leave their houses.
In the late 1990s, a right-wing paramilitary group from Colombia killed several people in the village of Bongo.
Colombian Marxist guerrillas are suspected to have been behind a nighttime attack last year on Nazaret that killed a little girl and wounded several people.
In Biroquera, residents have been worried since police reported finding a guerrilla camp a few miles away.
Messages have been found scribbled on tree trunks: "Panamanian police, come and get us," one challenged.
The government of Panama, which has no army, has sent more than 200 police officers to Jaque and surrounding villages.
About 40 officers are reinforcing Biroquera.
The added police encouraged teachers to return to schools in Biroquera Nov. 26 to finish out the school year.
Officers recently searched Jaque looking for undocumented residents, a difficult task because the region is home to hundreds of Colombian refugees from their
country's 37-year-old civil war, which causes thousands of deaths each year.
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