Number of Colombian Troops Killed in Rebel Ambush Climbs to 10

Latin American Herald Tribune, October 22, 2011

BOGOTA – Ten soldiers and one guerrilla were killed in a rebel ambush in the jungles of the southwestern Colombian province of Nariño, authorities said.

Two other soldiers were wounded when leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, guerrillas ambushed an army patrol along the road linking Pasto, the provincial capital, to the Pacific port of Tumaco, Nariño Gov. Antonio Navarro Wolff told reporters Friday.

Initial reports indicated that seven soldiers – and then nine – had been killed and that another nine troops were missing.

But eight of the missing, none of whom had been wounded, later reported to a group of reinforcement troops early Friday, while the ninth missing soldier was found dead a few hours later.

Navarro Wolf and armed forces commander Gen. Alejandro Navas, who had traveled to the area Friday, attributed the assault to members of the FARC’s Daniel Aldana Column, known to operate in the province bordering Ecuador.

The troops were patrolling an area of palm-oil plantations that the FARC is trying to convert into a “corridor” from the jungle to the Pacific coast, Colombia’s military chief said.

Navas said the rebels targeted the rural patrol because the armed forces’ “Plan Democracy” strategy to ensure security for the Oct. 30 municipal and regional elections has limited the FARC’s ability to attack urban areas and vital infrastructure.

The two wounded soldiers were taken to a hospital in Tumaco.

Also in southwestern Colombia, authorities on Friday said they found an explosives-packed school bus on the road to the southern city of Neiva and attributed the action to FARC guerrillas.

The vehicle was halted some 10 kilometers (six miles) from the city, capital of Huila province, the police commander in that region, Col. Julio Cesar Alvarado, told reporters.

Witnesses told police the guerrillas had intercepted the vehicle in a rural area near the border between Huila and the neighboring province of Caqueta.

They said the insurgents forced a group of students off the bus before loading the explosives into a luggage compartment in the back of the vehicle and forcing the driver to travel to Neiva.

The explosive was a charge of ammonium nitrate that had been packed inside a plastic water container and a sack and was to be used in an attack in that city, the police colonel said.

According to media reports, the explosive material was not connected to an activation device.

Alvarado said the FARC’s 17th Front was behind the planned bomb attack.