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Suspected rebels massacre 16 in Colombia
Updated: 2005-01-02 09:08

Suspected rebels massacred 16 peasants, including women and children, in a remote area in lawless Arauca province, police said Saturday.

The attack came last Friday less than an hour before the New Year arrived in the village of Puerto San Salvador, 230 miles northeast of Bogota, Arauca police chief Col. Rodrigo Palacio said.

He said the killers, believed to be members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, accused the peasants of collaborating with right-wing paramilitary militias. The dead included six men, six women and four children.

Leftist rebels have long battled the outlawed paramilitary fighters of the United Self-Defense Forces, or AUC, for control of Arauca, one of Colombia's most violent provinces that is a strategic corridor for smuggling drugs and arms from across the border in Venezuela.

The AUC is involved in a peace process with the government and has demobilized more than 3,000 fighters this year. The FARC has shunned government offers to start negotiations.

The massacre came the same day that President Alvaro Uribe took the unprecedented step of extraditing a top FARC commander to the United States on drug trafficking and terrorism charges, raising fears of reprisal attacks.

Colombia's armed forces chief put his troops on high alert after Ricardo Palmera, a former FARC peace negotiator believed to have been heavily involved in the group's financial operations, became the first FARC leader to be sent for trial in a U.S. federal court.

The extradition came after the FARC failed to comply with an ultimatum from Uribe to free 63 hostages, including three Americans.

Colombia's 40-year-old conflict kills more than 3,000 people every year.

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