Colombian capital on edge after string of bombings and launching of mortars

Wednesday, April 10th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ Colombia's capital was on edge after a string of bombings _ including one that killed two police officers _ and the launching of two homemade mortars near the presidential palace.

A parked car with a body inside blew up Tuesday, killing two members of a bomb squad south of Bogota. Two small bombs also exploded in a downtown commercial district of the capital, injuring four people, including a 6-year-old girl who was reported in critical condition.

As news of the explosions spread through Bogota, police spent much of the day rushing around the city, responding to bomb scares. Police blamed the bombings on the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, who have been fighting a guerrilla war against the government for 38 years.

``The thing that is so unfair is that all of us innocent people have to pay for the war that is happening here, especially the children,'' said Nelson Cuervo, 35, who rushed to get his child out of a school near the presidential palace after police found a vehicle used to launch mortars nearby. Two unexploded mortar shells were found in nearby parks and deactivated.

The attacks began before dawn Tuesday, when police found a car abandoned on a rural road 25 miles south of Bogota with a corpse and bags inside. Fearing the bags contained explosives, the police didn't touch the car or try to remove the unidentified body, and called the bomb squad.

When two bomb squad officers tried to open a car door, the car exploded. Both policemen were killed.

Four hours later, two small bombs exploded in manholes in downtown Bogota within minutes of each other, injuring the four people. The explosions flung up the manhole covers and broke up sections of concrete.

Police also found another small bomb in a manhole, evacuated shops and businesses in the area, and safely detonated it.

Police searching nearby homes and businesses for the bombers captured an accused drug trafficker wanted for extradition by the United States. Victor Patino Fomeque, a convicted member of the now-defunct Cali drug trafficking cartel, was found in a hotel police were searching, prosecutors told The Associated Press.

The administrative police said they captured four suspected rebels in Bogota on Tuesday afternoon.

The U.S. Embassy advised Americans to ``exercise caution'' when traveling around Bogota, a city of 7 million people. The Embassy said Tuesday was the 54th anniversary of the assassination of leftist presidential candidate Elicier Gaitan on the same street as the manhole explosions.

The FARC has stepped up attacks on this South American country's infrastructure since peace talks collapsed Feb. 20, targeting bridges, electrical and communications towers and reservoirs, and planting bombs in towns and rural areas.

The explosions Tuesday follow a pair of bombs Sunday in Villavicencio, a provincial capital, that killed 12 civilians and wounded more than 60.

The latest tactic used by the FARC is to detonate a small explosive, then set off a large bomb minutes later after rescue workers, police and onlookers have gathered at the scene, military officials said.