BOGOTA – FARC guerrillas set off a roadside bomb as a police patrol passed by in a rural area in southern Colombia, killing two officers, officials said Monday.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, guerrillas ambushed the two-man police patrol Sunday in La Chonta, a hamlet in the southern province of Caqueta.
“The insurgents, who were from the Teofilo Forero mobile column, set off an explosive device and later used firearms with a long range,” the National Police said in a statement.
Officers Omar Galdino and Carlos Tocaria were killed by the rebels, who burned the men’s bodies and vehicle.
“Police explosives specialists inspected the place where the attack occurred and found two cylinder-type explosive devices containing approximately 90 kilos of the explosive ammonal and homemade detonating cord,” the National Police said.
The bombs were going to be used to attack the patrols that went to assist the officers who were attacked.
Over the weekend, six FARC guerrillas and three National Liberation Army, or ELN, rebels surrendered along the border between the provinces of Risaralda and Choco in western Colombia, army 3rd Division commander Gen. Justo Eliseo Peña said Sunday.
Eleven other ELN guerrillas deserted in southern Colombia and walked for several days through the jungle until they were able to surrender to authorities, Nariño province police chief Col. William Montezuma Lopez said.
The rebels surrendered in three hamlets in Nariño, which is on the border with Ecuador, Lopez told reporters Saturday.
A program created by the government offers financial, medical, educational and security assistance to members of illegal armed groups who surrender.
The ELN, which was founded in 1964 and is Colombia’s second-largest leftist guerrilla group, has waged a four-decade insurgency against a succession of governments.
Several attempts to negotiate peace with the group in the 1990s and earlier this decade broke down after weeks or months of talks.
The most recent peace process between the ELN, which has 5,000 fighters, and the government started in 2005 and was suspended in August 2007 due to differences over various issues.
In May, the ELN said there were no “reserved issues” in possible peace talks with the government and called for a political solution to the more than 50-year-old “armed conflict” in the Andean nation.
The FARC, Colombia’s oldest and largest leftist guerrilla group, was also founded in 1964 and today operates across a large swath of this Andean nation.
President Alvaro Uribe’s administration has made fighting the FARC, which has an estimated 8,000 to 17,000 fighters, a top priority and has obtained billions in U.S. aid for counterinsurgency operations.
The FARC, whose leader is Alfonso Cano, suffered a series of blows last year.
On July 2, 2008, the Colombian army rescued former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, U.S. military contractors Thomas Howes, Keith Stansell and Marc Gonsalves, and 11 other Colombian police officers and soldiers.
The FARC had been trying to trade the 15 captives, along with 25 other “exchangeables,” for hundreds of jailed guerrillas.
The rebels’ most valuable bargaining chip was Betancourt, a dual Colombian-French citizen the FARC seized in February 2002 whose plight became a cause célèbre in Europe.
The guerrilla group is believed to still be holding some 700 hostages.
FARC founder Manuel Marulanda, who was known as “Sureshot,” died on March 26, 2008.
Three weeks earlier, Colombian forces staged a cross-border raid into Ecuador, killing FARC second-in-command Raul Reyes and setting off a regional diplomatic crisis.
Ivan Rios, a high-level FARC commander, was killed that same month by one of his own men, who cut off the guerrilla leader’s hand and presented it to army troops, along with identification documents, as proof that the rebel chief was dead.
A succession of governments have battled Colombia’s leftist insurgent groups since the mid-1960s.
In 1999, then-President Andres Pastrana allowed the creation of a Switzerland-sized “neutral” zone in the jungles of southern Colombia for peace talks with the FARC.
After several years of fitful and ultimately fruitless negotiations, Pastrana ordered the armed forces to retake the region in early 2002. But while the arrangement lasted, the FARC enjoyed free rein within the zone.
The FARC is on both the U.S. and EU lists of terrorist groups. Drug trafficking, extortion and kidnapping-for-ransom are the FARC’s main means of financing its operations. EFE