In strategic shift, Colombia's FARC targets cities
The embattled guerrillas are attacking urban areas that they had been pushed out of by a sustained military campaign under President Uribe.
The taps have run dry in the Colombian city of Villavicencio.Skip to next paragraph
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For more than a week, residents have been making do with buckets of water from trucks that circle the neighborhoods after the latest in a spate of urban bomb attacks that signal a shift in leftist guerrillas' strategy.
The flow of water to Villavicencio, a city of 300,000 on Colombia's eastern plains, was cut March 7 when three bombs tore through the main water line. Two days later, two policemen patrolling the water plant were severely injured by land mines.
The government offered a reward of $40,000 for information leading to the capture of those responsible. But Gen. Freddy Padilla, commander of Colombia's armed forces, says he has little doubt it was the guerrilla commander operating in that area who ordered the attack.
The bombing of the pipeline, he says, is part of a new campaign by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Colombia's largest rebel group, to make its power felt in the cities from which they had been pushed out through a sustained military and security campaign over the past five years.
"The FARC are opting to organize terrorist acts to show their presence as a force to the people of Colombia," General Padilla said in an interview. Based on military interceptions of FARC communications, the new strategy has been dubbed "Plan Renacer" or "Plan Rebirth."
The FARC are regrouping after a series of severe setbacks last year, including the rescue of some of their more prized hostages and the deaths of three leaders, including the top commander and founder Manuel "Sureshot" Marulanda. Alfonso Cano, a more city-savvy guerrilla, took over the command of the rebel force, which the military estimates has some 8,000 fighters.
Officials said they are preparing for a possible major attack on March 26, the anniversary of Mr. Marulanda's death, apparently from natural causes.
The bomb that disrupted the aqueduct followed several other such attacks:
• On Jan. 16, a car packed with 88 pounds of explosives blew up at a shopping mall in the south-central city of Neiva.
• On Feb. 1, a car bomb blasted through the regional headquarters of the police intelligence service in the southwestern city of Cali, killing two. In September, a similar bomb went off in front of Cali's palace of justice.
•On March 6, a blast ripped through a hardware store and several other businesses in Neiva.