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Car Bombing Kills 10, Injures 30 in Colombia

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A powerful car bomb exploded outside an anti-kidnapping unit in Medellin on Friday, killing at least 10 people, including a prosecutor and at least one investigator, authorities said.

The explosion in a residential neighborhood injured at least 30 people, destroyed 10 houses and damaged 28 automobiles in the nation’s second-largest city, according to an army spokesman. Two investigators and two noncommissioned army officers are missing and feared dead. Television news footage showed concrete and glass strewn over an area of several blocks.

The bomb exploded a few hours after the unit arrested seven suspected members of a rebel urban militia unit, confiscating their arms, Army Gen. Nestor Ramirez said.

The alleged urban militia members who were arrested are thought to be members of Colombia’s largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, he said.

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FARC spokesman Raul Reyes said he had been in talks with government negotiators all day and had no knowledge of the attack.

However, Gen. Fernando Tapias, commander of the armed forces, placed the blame squarely on the rebel group.

“It was retaliation,” he told reporters.

“It had to be the guerrillas,” a high-ranking investigator said, although no group had yet claimed responsibility.

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“This is the first time they have dealt us this sort of blow.”

The rebels, who control about 40% of the Colombian countryside and routinely attack rural police outposts, have increasingly made their presence felt in cities. In May, the National Liberation Army, the second-largest insurgent group, kidnapped churchgoers in an upper-class neighborhood in the city of Cali, south of Medellin.

For its part, the government has cracked down on the guerrillas’ sources of revenue, which include ransoms along with extortion and “taxes” on illicit drug crops. Rebels are thought to have been behind about two-thirds of the 2,216 abductions in Colombia last year, according to Pais Libre, a support group for kidnapping victims and their families.

An integral part of the government strategy is interdisciplinary anti-kidnapping units--like the one that was bombed Friday--which include prosecutors, investigators, police and soldiers.

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Their aim is to discourage abductions by rescuing victims and prosecuting kidnappers, thus removing the incentive.

“The anti-kidnapping unit that was the object of this attack had rescued 26 kidnapping victims since the beginning of this year, the majority of them victims of the FARC,” Tapias said. “It had also arrested 47 kidnappers and had captured eight urban militia members who had carried out an attack against a [nearby] army brigade last August.”

The bombing occurred the same day that negotiators for the government and FARC failed to revive stalled peace talks.

Analysts have warned that, as the government and rebels try to negotiate an end to 3 1/2 decades of conflict, the fighting is likely to intensify, with each side demonstrating its might in order to strengthen its negotiating position.

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