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34 killed in Colombia massacre

From CNN Correspondent Karl Penhaul

Organized Crime

BOGOTA, Colombia (CNN) -- At least 34 farm workers were killed and five others wounded in a massacre in northwest Colombia near the Venezuelan border in which leftist rebels are suspected, a spokesman at the chief prosecutor's office has said.

The dead were all working on a farm harvesting coca leaf, the raw material for cocaine, near the village of Rio Chiquita, the spokesman said. The motives for the attack were not clear, he said.

The region, known as La Gabarra in Norte de Santander province, is criss-crossed with drug and gun smuggling routes and is a center for cocaine production. It has long been hotly disputed by the guerrillas and rival outlaw right-wing paramilitary militias.

However, over the last month, many paramilitary fighters have pulled out of the region and headed to northeast Colombia for the start of planned peace talks between their leaders and the government.

Colombian soldiers and justice officials were due to fly out by helicopter to the massacre site at first light Wednesday to launch an investigation and recover the corpses.

The spokesman for the chief prosecutor's office said the operation would be risky because of rebel presence in the zone.

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