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<nettime> Colombia: Rebels Embrace New Technology
Krystian Woznicki on Fri, 3 Jan 2003 00:27:00 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Colombia: Rebels Embrace New Technology

Colombian Rebels Embrace New Technology

Mon Dec 23, 2:09 AM ET

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By VANESSA ARRINGTON, Associated Press Writer

BOGOTA, Colombia - Tucked inside a small room in a downtown apartment
building, an illiterate but mechanically trained rebel operates a remote
control device.

Two miles away, a car without a driver slowly creeps along a shadowy
street, a camera guiding it to the site where it will blow up with the
click of a button.

"Just like PlayStation," explained an anti-terrorist police officer in 
Colombia's capital, Bogota.

Bogota police prevented such a scenario earlier this month when they 
unraveled a rebel plan to guide five driver-less cars to police, army and 
public targets and set off the thousands of pounds of explosives inside the 
cars  all from the comfort of their own homes.

Though the alleged plot was broken up, the proof of the rebels' new 
advanced technology has sparked more fear of what's to come.

"This is something that we have never seen before," said the police 
officer, who works undercover on the streets of Bogota and asked not to be 
identified. "The imagination of these people has no limits."

Homemade grenades, crude mortar rounds fashioned from cooking-gas
cylinders and bombs tied to animals -- mainly donkeys and horses -- used
to be enough for the leftist rebels fighting the government in Colombia's
38-year civil war.

But in their stepped-up war against the hardline government of President
Alvaro Uribe, rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or
FARC, have embraced new technology that authorities insist foreign
terrorist groups must have introduced to them.

The rebels' growing sophistication was flamboyantly displayed on Aug. 7
when Uribe took office amid a shower of mortar rounds fired from over a
mile away that killed 21 people. Before then, police had not known the
rebels possessed projectiles with such range.

Authorities said the technology used in the attack was similar to that
used by the Irish Republican Army (news - web sites). In the ongoing trial
of three IRA-linked men accused of training Colombian rebels, army Maj.
Carlos Matiz testified that rebels have acquired new technology from
groups such as the IRA, Spain's ETA and Peru's Shining Path.

The three Irish suspects were arrested at the Bogota airport after
prosecutors say they spent several weeks training rebels in bomb-making
techniques in a former rebel safe haven in southern Colombian.

Former President Andres Pastrana gave FARC rebels control of a
Switzerland-sized zone of jungle and cattle ranches before launching peace
talks in late 1998. But the talks inside the zone went nowhere and on Feb.  
20, Pastrana called off the negotiations and sent troops back into the
safe haven.

The Bogota police officer said the rebels took full advantage of the zone 
to test and refine new methods they allegedly learned from foreigners.

"They used it as a laboratory for terror," he said.

Since troops have gone back into the zone, rebel leaders have less open 
space to plan their attacks, but the insurgents still control enough remote 
areas of Colombia for officials to believe that leaders are masterminding 
more high-tech attacks.

A police offensive launched after a car bomb exploded in a Bogota grocery 
store parking lot Dec. 9 turned up a suspected rebel driving with 
explosives. Information he provided led to the discovery of the plan to 
detonate the driver-less cars.

Police found three cars already prepared with explosives and the
remote-control equipment, which police tested and found to work, said the
anti-terror officer, who was involved in breaking up the plot.

Two other cars were found, partially prepared for a remote-control attack
-- and the equipment to be used in them was uncovered in a Bogota
clothing store, the officer said. Seven suspected rebels were arrested in
connection to the plot. The officer said those preparing the
remote-control cars were illiterate Colombians, recruited by the rebels
and trained in the technology.

About 65 people were injured in the Dec. 9 attack in which 110 pounds of
explosives were used. In the foiled attacks, each of the driver-less cars
held around ten times that amount.

Though rebel groups have often called Christmas truces in the past,
authorities are anticipating the worst this holiday season.

Members of a new government committee are frequently meeting to coordinate
counterterrorism efforts, and police and military officials are working
overtime to search houses, set up roadblocks and arrest suspected rebels
in the hope of finding clues to avert the next attack.

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