Top Colombian presidential candidate survives apparent assassination attempt

Sunday, April 14th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ A bus exploded near the motorcade of Colombia's leading presidential candidate on Sunday, leaving him unharmed but killing two people and injuring two officers, officials said.

Alvaro Uribe's caravan was going through the Caribbean coastal city of Barranquilla when a bus exploded nearby. Uribe, a hard-liner running on pledges to crack down on leftist guerrillas, told Caracol radio moments later that he was unharmed.

``What happened is lamentable. I hope that the wounds that my colleagues suffered are not serious,'' Uribe said.

Two people who were inside the bus were killed, and two members of a police escort who were riding on a motorcycle were injured, Uribe spokesman Ricardo Galan told The Associated Press by telephone from Barranquilla.

Television images showed men carrying a body from the site of the blast, and two sport utility vehicles pocked with what appeared to be shrapnel marks.

Officials did not immediately say who they believe was behind the bombing but suspicion was likely to turn on Colombia's main rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, who have allegedly plotted to assassinate the hard-line candidate on at least one occasion.

Earlier this month Uribe's vice-presidential candidate, Francisco Santos, said the two were aware they could be targets during the campaign.

Uribe, a former state governor, holds a commanding lead ahead of May 26 presidential elections _ in large part because his tough rhetoric against the FARC has resonated with Colombians fed up with rebel violence.

The country's 38-year war pits the FARC and another leftist guerrilla faction against Colombia's U.S.-backed military and an illegal right-wing paramilitary group. An estimated 3,500 people have died annually, most of them unarmed civilians.

The FARC is thought to be responsible for a recent wave of urban bombings and a mass kidnapping Thursday in which rebels disguised as an army bomb squad abducted 12 provincial lawmakers in southwest Colombia.

On Saturday, police said they captured 16 suspected rebels and more than 1,300 pounds of explosives during raids in the capital.