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Sat, Feb 15, 2003

Americans Apparently Executed at Colombian Crash Site

Colombia's War On Terror Just Got Personal

An American and a Colombian whose bodies were found in the wreckage of a U.S. government plane had been shot to death, a Colombian official said Friday. President Alvaro Uribe said both men were murdered.

The State Department said the other three people in the plane, all Americans, may have been taken hostage by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. The Colombian official said he didn't know what kind of shape they are in - if they are indeed still alive.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Charles Barclay, said: "We have reliable reports that crew members are being held by the terrorist group the FARC. If these reports are accurate we demand the crew members be released unharmed immediately."

Caravan Down

The single-engine Cessna Caravan - carrying four Americans and a Colombian - was on a drug-interdiction mission when it went down Thursday in rebel-held territory.

Rescue crews discovered two bodies in the wreckage and retrieved them.

"There were various bullet impacts on the two bodies," Alonso Velasquez, director of the attorney general's office in Florencia, said. He said the gunshot wounds were the cause of death.

According to one report based on a radio intercept, rebels quickly arrived on the scene of the plane crash (right) and captured the survivors.

Murders Confirmed

Uribe lamented the deaths of "two people aboard the plane - a sergeant in our army and an American citizen - whose murders have been confirmed."

It was unclear if the two men had been hit by groundfire while in the plane, or had been shot after the crash.

American officials, speaking from Washington, said the Americans were contractors for the U.S. military's Southern Command, which oversees operations in Latin America and the Caribbean, U.S. officials said in Washington. The U.S. Embassy in Bogota said the plane crashed eight minutes before its scheduled arrival in Florencia, a provincial capital.

Colombian troops and U.S. officials continued their desperate search Friday for the survivors. Authorities feared they had been captured by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the biggest leftist rebel group in Colombia. DynCorp, a U.S. State Department contractor involved in anti-drug missions in Colombia, said Thursday it was helping in the rescue effort. However, a statement on the company's website indicated otherwise.

"DynCorp was not involved in any manner in the incident that occurred near Florencia this afternoon.  The company is providing logistics and aircraft support to the Colombian Army and Police in the rescue and recovery efforts," said company spokesman Chuck Taylor.

Rescue: Mission Impossible?

Four Colombian soldiers involved in the rescue effort were reported injured by rebel land mines.

"The rebels have a large part of the area mined to stop troops from coming in," said Capt. Lida Zambrano, spokeswoman for the Colombian army's 12th Brigade.

Army troops patrolled the main road near the plane crash site, hoping to intercept the rebels if they tried to move the men out. The army also closed the road between the towns of El Doncello and Puerto Rico - near where the plane was believed to have crashed - for several hours late Thursday, local residents said.

The White House said no information was being released about the people on board or their mission out of concern for their safety while the search and rescue efforts continue. "There is a massive effort under way in a very unfriendly part of the country," presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

The area around the crash site is largely controlled by the FARC. Plantations of coca - the main ingredient of cocaine - are prevalent in this region of humid plains and jungle-covered mountains.

Plot To Bomb Uribe's Plane

The FARC was also blamed for an explosion Friday in Neiva that blew up a house and killed 15 people, including eight policemen who were investigating a reported rebel plot to assassinate Uribe (right, with President George W. Bush). A massive explosion ripped through a house Friday as it was being searched by police investigating a plot to kill President Alvaro Uribe, killing 16 people and scattering debris for blocks in this southern Colombian city.

The pre-dawn explosion destroyed three other houses in the working-class neighborhood adjoining the airport. Authorities said among those killed were nine police officers, an investigator with the attorney general's office and three children.

If there were any doubts that Colombia's four-decade-old war had moved into this South American nation's cities, they were erased in the devastating blast that gouged a 15-foot-deep crater in the ground and turned a quiet neighborhood into a scene of devastation.

Security officials said the rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, planned to kill the president on Saturday as he flew to Neiva, a city of some 250,000 residents about 400 kilometres south of Bogota.

The rebels allegedly planned to kill Mr. Uribe by detonating the bomb as his plane flew low overhead — the house was in the flight path — or by firing mortar rounds, authorities said.

Killing the Coke

The United States has backed a massive campaign to locate and destroy the drug crops with aerial fumigation.

Washington is now moving beyond simply fighting drug trafficking - which provides profits for rebels and right-wing militias - to helping the Colombian government directly battle the insurgents.

U.S. special forces in eastern and central Colombia are training Colombian army troops in counterinsurgency tactics and Washington is planning to share intelligence on the rebels with Colombia.

The FARC and the National Liberation Army have fought the government for nearly 40 years. About 3,500 people, mostly civilians, die in the fighting every year.

FMI: http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/co.html

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