Colombian rebels kill 9 as trouble hits peace talks


Leftist guerrillas killed nine people and injured 15 others in separate attacks in war-torn Colombia, the army said today as government and rebel negotiators traded barbs over new trouble in the country's fragile peace process.

In another attack blamed on the larger Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia - known by its Spanish acronym FARC - the army said rebels detonated several bombs in an underground gas duct in northern Guajira Province, causing a fierce explosion, killing four people and wounding 11 others.

The assaults came as government negotiators and FARC commanders over the weekend exchanged accusations over the slow pace of nearly three-year-old peace talks aimed at ending a 37-year war that has killed 40,000 people in the past decade.

In a letter to Colombian President Mr Andres Pastrana, the 17,000-member FARC insisted yesterday it would stay away from the negotiating table until the government suspended stepped-up military air and border patrols around a rebel enclave in southern Colombia that is the base of peace talks.

The FARC, which fights for socialist demands, also asked Mr Pastrana to extend the life of its Switzerland-sized enclave until August 7th.

In a letter to FARC commanders, the government's chief peace negotiator, Mr Camilo Gomez, insisted the patrols would continue and called on rebels not to elude their responsibility to achieve peace.

Both the ELN and the FARC are classified by the US State Department as terrorist organisations.