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Bombing Colombia Into Darkness

Rebels intensified their campaign to bomb Colombia into darkness Thursday by sabotaging several power stations, knocking out electricity to hundreds of thousands of people.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, plans to attack electricity and other infrastructure targets around this Andean capital of 7 million, according to a reputed rebel conversation over two-way radio.

"You've got to hit them with everything, so everything falls: bridges, electrical towers, the reservoir," a rebel commander who goes by the nom de guerre Romana was heard telling another guerrilla on Monday.

"You've got to deliver an urban blow, so the oligarchy feels the war," Romana said, according to a transcript of the intercepted conversation reported in the country's main newspaper, El Tiempo, on Thursday.

While rebel attacks have left many parts of Colombia without electricity, telephone or water service, Bogota and other large cities have thus far been spared. Though electric towers and a reservoir near the capital have been attacked, officials have been able to maintain uninterrupted service.

Security has been stepped up, with army troops guarding bridges and reservoirs in the capital.

One week after the government broke off peace talks and launched a military offensive into a former rebel safe haven, evidence of military successes were scant.

Military commanders said it was too dangerous for ground troops to do a body count of rebels killed in aerial bombardments. Gen. Hector Fabio Velasco, the head of the Colombian Air Force, said the military has located several top commanders of the FARC.

"We know where they are, in various locations and not all in the former safe haven, but capturing them will require some time, and patience," Velasco said in a radio interview.

He said that Colombia would, at least for now, have to fight the rebels on its own. U.S. military aid to Colombia is mostly limited to counternarcotics missions and Washington has not granted Colombian requests to lift restrictions on the aid.

"We have not received one bullet or one bomb from the Americans," Velasco said.

Rebels blew up transmission towers overnight Wednesday and early Thursday, cutting electrical power to Casanare state in eastern Colombia, and to the 39,000 residents of the city of Arauca, in northeast Colombia's Arauca state.

Since rebels began attacking the country's infrastructure, they have blown up about 70 electrical transmission towers and tried to sabotage reservoirs that supply water to Bogota. There have been power outages in the states of Caqueta, Cauca, Caldas, Boyaca, Guajira and Meta.

Fighting has occurred as close as 10 miles (16 kilometers) from Florencia, the capital of Caqueta, unnerving residents. There has been no phone service for days. Only cellular and satellite phones work. At night, people use candles or generator-powered electricity for lights.

"The people here are full of anguish and uncertainty," Fabian Marulanda, the bishop of Florencia, told The Associated Press over his cell phone.

Marulanda said truck drivers are reluctant to drive to Florencia through areas where rebels maintain a strong presence. Flights were planned to bring sugar, eggs, rice and other staple foods to the provincial capital, Marulanda said.

The rebel safe haven was located in Caqueta and Meta states for three years. President Andres Pastrana revoked it on Feb. 20 after the rebels hijacked an airliner and kidnapped a senator who was aboard.

By Andrew Selsky

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