Colombia declares state of emergency Wave of bombings, killings prompt presidential decree

November 09, 1992|By Los Angeles Times News Service

BOGOTA, Colombia -- Reacting to a wave of bloody bombings and other attacks by leftist guerrillas and drug traffickers, President Cesar Gaviria has declared a national state of emergency, giving him new powers to fight the attackers.

"I know that the entire country is waiting for decided action against these terrorists," Mr. Gaviria said last night in a television address -- his second in 24 hours.

Mr. Gaviria said that beginning this week he would decree a series of new measures mainly targeting the country's estimated 8,000 rebels, whom he condemned as mere criminals involved in drug trafficking .

"The [guerrillas] no longer represent any ideal," the president said in his 20-minute address to the nation. "They are no longer the revolutionary vanguard. Today, they are no more than the rear guard for drug traffickers."

The government has long accused the guerrillas of participating in Colombia's drug trade.

The president announced the crackdown after meeting for several hours with his ministers and the chiefs of the country's security forces. The emergency meetings were called after leftist guerrillas carried out new attacks in their biggest offensive this year, and drug traffickers' gunmen shot and killed police officers in the city of Medellin.

The explosions of at least 30 bombs targeting banks in several Colombian cities yesterday killed at least five people and wounded another 60, according to an official report.

The report said that the attacks were carried out by the Simon Bolivar Coordinating Front, an umbrella organization comprising the country's two active rebel groups, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, and the National Liberation Army, or ELN.

Just hours before the bombings, guerrillas overwhelmed a remote southern Colombia security post, killing 26 police officers charged with guarding an oil field in the jungle. Five guerrillas were killed in the battle, which lasted several hours. Rebels also blew up the country's main oil pipeline for the third time in a week.

Colombia's constitution allows the president to declare a "state of internal commotion" for 90 days, giving him the power to suspend laws by decree.

Mr. Gaviria pledged to use his emergency powers to fight the FARC and the ELN by destroying their sources of income, which include not just drug trafficking, but also kidnapping, extortion and robbery.

Attacks by the FARC and the ELN, with 6,000 and 2,000 combatants, respectively, have cost the lives of 17,465 Colombians in the last five years and caused an estimated $385 million in damage.

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