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Bloody Battles In Colombia

Heavy fighting between the army and rebels in rural areas left more than 100 dead this week, Colombia's army commander said.

In the bloodiest battle, army troops attacked rebels before dawn Tuesday near the village of Puerto Libertador, 250 miles northwest of Bogota. About 60 rebels and 13 government troops died in more than 24 hours of fighting in the mountainous area, Gen. Fernando Tapias told a news conference.

Fighting also occurred in Huila state in the south, in Antioquia and Cordoba states in the northwest and Arauca and Santander states in north-central and eastern Colombia.

Tapias said 87 rebels and 15 soldiers had died in combat this week.

Also Wednesday, police clashed with protesting farmers who have blocked major highways in Colombia. The farm protests left several police officers and farmers bloodied, but no serious injuries were reported.

Police used armored trucks and tear gas to disperse the protesters, but strike organizer Jorge Robledo said the protesters "will resist until the last minute."

A spokesman of the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, Raul Reyes, said on the radio that the rebels support the protesters.

Police Gen. Tobias Duran said leftist rebels shot out the tires of several vehicles to help protesters create a blockade Tuesday night near Alto del Trigo, 30 miles northwest of Bogota.

In the town of Ventaquemada, 60 miles northeast of Bogota, eight police officers were injured during a confrontation with protesters on a highway leading north from the capital, Duran said.

Several highways in nine states remained blocked.

The protesters — primarily coffee growers, sugar, potato and grain farmers and cattle ranchers — began blocking highways on Monday and are demanding price supports, fewer food imports and debt forgiveness.

Colombia's 37-year civil war, primarily fought in the countryside, has further damaged the agricultural sector.

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