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Colombia troops take rebel-held town

During visit, Rice praises government for reasserting authority

From Karl Penhaul

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Guerrilla Activities
Condoleezza Rice

TACUEYO, Colombia (CNN) -- Colombian soldiers seized control of a town Wednesday from Marxist guerrillas who had been camped in and around the Indian village for the past two weeks.

The counterinsurgency troops rolled in at noon, backed by a column of light tanks and armored personnel carriers.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia guerrillas, known by their Spanish acronym, FARC, have been using Tacueyo as a command center and launch pad for attacks on the nearby town of Toribio, said residents of the area, south of Cali.

In Bogota, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice praised Colombia's U.S.-backed government for reasserting its authority over territory controlled by both the Marxist guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries.

"It's going to be a long road. It's hard," she said. "But the Colombians have had real success here."

The arrival of a company of counterinsurgency troops was met with rebel machine-gun fire, and the mountains echoed with blasts from mortars made from propane gas tanks packed with explosives.

CNN followed some of the troops in, under fire. Two soldiers were wounded, but their injuries were not life-threatening.

A U.S.-made military AC-130 gunship flew overhead, pounding guerrilla positions on the mountainside. By mid-afternoon, a rebel missile hit a home, wounding an 11-year-old boy.

The extent of the boy's injuries was not immediately known.

Julio Mesa, one of the town's indigenous leaders, said, "We don't want any armed group in our community, not left nor right. We want to run this community ourselves."

FARC was established in 1964 as the military wing of the Colombian Communist Party. It is the nation's oldest, largest and best-equipped Marxist rebel group, according to the U.S. Department of State. The agency has classified FARC as a terrorist group.

The battle in Tacueyo coincided with Rice's visit to Bogota, where she discussed the continuation of American anti-drug and counterinsurgency aid to Colombia. She said the $1.3 billion, 5-year-old "Plan Colombia," which former President Bill Clinton pushed through Congress, was "a policy that is working."

"The combination of military and police and justice assistance that we have been giving to Colombia has made it a place that is on a road to greater security, on a road to dealing with the drug trafficking problem and on a road to dealing with narcoterrorism in an effective way," she said.

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