BOGOTA, Colombia – Seven Colombian anti-narcotics police were killed and at least 12 wounded in an attack by suspected guerrillas as they conducted a mission to destroy illegal coca crops and labs in northeast Colombia, authorities said Thursday.
The attack Wednesday night occurred in the rural Tibu area in North Santander province near the Venezuelan border, a zone known to be the center of coca crops and cocaine processing labs, said anti-narcotics police commander Gen. Luis Alberto Perez.
Perez said members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, led the attack, which included crude home-made explosives. The police were accompanied by a civilian team of eradicators whose job is to uproot coca plants.
The police killed one guerrilla and captured five.
“We had put ourselves in the heart of the illegal crops of these guerrillas" Perez told reporters. “We say to the people of North Santander that we will not abandon them.”
The FARC is thought by Colombian and U.S. counter-narcotics officials to traffic in cocaine to finance their war on the government. Much of the drugs processed in the rural Tibu area are shipped over the border to Venezuela and on to the U.S. via Central America and Mexico.
The incident Wednesday and other attacks by the FARC reflect the area’s strategic importance to the rebels not only as a drugs production and transit zone but as a refuge for those who use the rugged area and adjoining Venezuelan mountains to flee from Colombian military operations.
Perez said Thursday that President Juan Manuel Santos had ordered police to take control of the area after weeks of rising violence. In late March, a mine planted by suspected members of FARC in the nearby Convencion township in North Santander left one policeman dead and five wounded.
-- Chris Kraul and Jenny Carolina Gonzalez