Colombia police killed as rebel surge continues

Colombian Defence Minister Rodrigo Rivera (L) speaks with President Juan Manuel Santos (10 September 2010) President Santos said the increase in violence only hardened the resolve of the security forces

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Left-wing rebels in Colombia have killed at least eight police officers and wounded several more in an attack on a town near the border with Ecuador.

The Farc rebels used gas canisters stuffed with explosives to bombard a police station in San Miguel, in the southern region of Putumayo.

Two rebels were killed in a subsequent firefight in the surrounding jungle.

It is the latest in a series of rebel attacks since President Juan Manuel Santos took office a month ago.

Start Quote

If they think that with an attack like this they are going to weaken us, they are completely wrong”

End Quote Juan Manuel Santos President of Colombia

On Wednesday, an ambush on a patrol in the province of Caqueta left 14 police officers dead.

The BBC's Jeremy McDermott in Medellin says the attacks may be a tactic by the leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc), Alfonso Cano, to force the government into peace talks.

However, Mr Santos declared that the increase in violence only hardened the resolve of the security forces to eradicate the "terrorist threat".

"If they think that with an attack like this they are going to weaken us, they are completely wrong," he said.

"We will respond with more force and more determination. We are not going to rest a single second until we have peace in this country."

Border commission

In Friday's attack, rebels fired homemade mortars at a barracks housing 80 police officers in San Miguel, close to a bridge linking Colombia and Ecuador, shortly before dawn.

The police said they had foiled a rebel plan to occupy the town after intercepting radio communications.

Troops and air force planes were sent to pursue the rebels in the jungle.

Our correspondent says there are questions as to whether the attack came from Ecuador, where the rebels have been known to have presence.

Colombian Defence Minister Rodrigo Rivera said he had "communicated with Ecuador's Security Minister, Miguel Carvajal, who agreed to immediately activate the cross-border bi-national commission, to conduct a joint investigation into the facts".

Map of Colombia

However, Mr Carvajal later denied the attack had been launched from Ecuador, insisting its security forces had "full territorial control".

The Putumayo region is a traditional stronghold of the Farc, as well as a major cocaine-producing area.

Both the Farc and the smaller National Liberation Army (ELN) were severely weakened by the tough security policies of President Santos's predecessor, Alvaro Uribe.

Both groups have indicated that they are prepared to begin peace talks.

But Mr Santos has said that he is only prepared to talk to the rebels if they release all of the hostages they hold and stop attacks.

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