Bogota hit on Uribe's 1st day

14 are killed in Colombia as president is sworn in

`We don't accept violence'

Hard-liner has vowed to halt terrorism in nation

August 08, 2002|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

BOGOTA, Colombia - Colombia's new hard-line President Alvaro Uribe held his nation's highest job for just minutes yesterday before explosions shook the capital near the presidential palace and neighboring slums, killing at least 14 people and wounding 28 as the inauguration took place just a block away.

Uribe was elected May 26 after campaigning on the promise of a firmer hand against terrorists. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which has led a 38-year-old insurgency, is widely expected to wreak havoc here in the coming weeks to protest Uribe's election; it is also believed to be responsible for yesterday's blasts.

"We don't accept violence to combat the government - or to defend it," Uribe said during his 20-minute speech, apparently oblivious to the nearby violence. "Both are terrorism."

Uribe's mandate is huge. Not only are Colombia's 40 million people expecting him to put an end to the insurgency that claims 3,500 lives a year, but also to resolve profound problems in education, the economy, corruption and employment.

Uribe acknowledged yesterday that 57 percent of his nation lives in poverty. About 16 percent cannot find work, and another 16 percent are underemployed. At least 3,000 people are kidnapped each year - accounting for 60 percent of the world's kidnappings, Uribe said. The national debt represents 3 percent of the gross national product.

"We didn't come here to complain. We came here to work," he said. "I'm conscious of the size of my responsibility."

Although no one immediately took responsibility for yesterday's bombings, it was widely attributed to the FARC, which hopes to demonstrate just how daunting Uribe's task is.

As the former Antioquia governor was sworn in at the nation's congressional building, rebels launched mortars at the presidential palace a block away.

"It shows what kind of conflict we have and what kind of challenges we face," said Congressman Antonio Navarro, who added that some people thought they were hearing a 21-gun salute.

One bomb hit a second-floor roof of a building abutting the presidential palace, injuring one of the former first lady's security guards.

Authorities said launching ramps were found in Santa Isabel, about a mile away. Police believe additional weapons fired there missed their target and hit Cartucho, a neighborhood inhabited mostly by homeless people.

At least 14 people died, including three children, according to early news reports. At least 50 people were hurt.

Bogota Mayor Antanas Mockus said intercepted radio messages among members of the country's largest rebel group showed that the FARC was behind the attack.

"We were home watching the inauguration when we heard, `Sshhhhh, boom!'" a resident of a damaged building told a local television station. "Everyone came out running."

`Times of war'

Uribe was unfazed. After learning of the attacks, he walked the block from the capitol building to Casa Narino, the presidential palace. He calmly stood in front of his new home and talked to military high command as French-made Mirage jet fighters roared overhead.

"I heard something strange, but I thought it was just the surveillance flights," said Senate President Luis Alfredo Ramos, who swore Uribe in. "We're living in times of war. I firmly believe that sooner than later, this will come to an end through dialogue and a peace process. I hope that that will happen during Alvaro Uribe's term."

Although police had anticipated terrorist attacks and even foiled an attempt to blow up the presidential helicopter, the explosions came as a surprise. About 200,000 police and soldiers had been deployed throughout the nation to avert a tragedy, including 12,000 police officers in Bogota alone.

Security was so tight that 25 square blocks of the city were closed and media were not allowed to attend the inauguration. U.S. reconnaissance surveillance planes conducted fly-bys all afternoon.

The factions

Colombia's civil war pits two left-wing insurgencies against the armed forces and a right-wing paramilitary group called the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia.

Uribe, whose father was reportedly killed by the FARC, has vowed to address the social justice issues of the leftist insurgency's ideology. But Uribe's critics argue that he is not committed to bringing an end to paramilitary violence because he shares its anti-FARC beliefs and has allies among its leadership.

Uribe has promised to create more jobs and classroom space for 1 million more students. He has said he welcomes negotiations with the rebels if they cease hostilities and display humanitarian acts such as releasing kidnap victims.

"The world should understand that this conflict needs solutions that are unconventional, transparent and imaginative," he said. "We'll start with a government that's honest, efficient, austere, not miraculous, with work as its symbol."

His platform includes fighting corruption, streamlining government and improving public services to rural areas.

"In four years, it would be impossible to resolve it all, but we will not spare any effort trying," Uribe said. "I know I can't do it without the company, constructive criticism and effort of my countrymen. In four years, I expect to be able to look those countrymen in the eye."

Americans unharmed

The White House had no immediate comment on the explosions, but spokesman Sean McCormack said members of the U.S. delegation at the inauguration were not harmed.

The presidents of Panama, Argentina, Venezuela, Ecuador and Honduras also attended and were not hurt, officials said.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.