April 1, 2006

Colombia troops kill 22 rebels in pre-vote offensive

BOGOTA, Colombia (Reuters) - Colombian troops killed 22
Marxist rebels on Saturday in an offensive aimed at preventing
guerrilla attacks during campaigning for the May presidential
election, the army said.

The army killed 14 members of the country's largest rebel
group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which is
known by its Spanish initials FARC, and 8 members of the
National Liberation Army, or ELN, army spokesmen said.

The fighting took place in six different regions of
Colombia as part of an armed forces offensive aimed at
weakening rebels ahead of the May 28 presidential election,
they said.

President Alvaro Uribe, a close U.S. ally, is on course to
win 64 percent of the vote in his bid for a second term, thanks
largely to his tough policies against the rebels, according to
a recent poll.

Violence related to the country's four-decade-old war has
fallen sharply since Uribe won his first four-year term in 2002
and put the military on the offensive, although the armed
forces say there are still more than armed 20,000 Marxist
rebels, mainly in the countryside.

The rebels -- fighting for socialist revolution in a
country with a huge divide between rich and poor -- have little
support in the cities where most Colombians live but have grown
strong in part thanks to money from kidnapping and cocaine