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Police Say Colombian Rebels Used Gas

Colombia's biggest rebel army used gas during a weekend attack...

Colombia's biggest rebel army used gas during a weekend attack on a village police station, killing four officers who died slow, agonizing deaths, a police commander said Tuesday.

Also Tuesday, officials said at least 23 people were killed in two separate battles between paramilitaries and leftist rebels over the past week, and three Colombian soldiers were killed while clearing land mines laid by guerrillas, and that

Biopsies were taken from the four men killed in the weekend attack on the police station to determine what agent was used, said police Col. Francisco Henry Caicedo. He described the gas as "toxic," but acknowledged it could have been tear gas, which can be lethal in enclosed spaces.

Results of the biopsies were not expected for several days. If poisonous gas -- and not tear gas -- were used, it would be the first such known case in Colombia's 37-year civil war.

Caicedo said that according to officers who survived the attack Sunday in San Adolfo, in Huila province 230 miles south of Bogota, rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia tossed bombs into their compound that sent dark gray smoke into their bunker and tunnels.

"They were suffocating -- they couldn't breathe and felt their lungs were going to explode. They were immediately blinded by the gas," Caicedo told The Associated Press.

One officer died in a hospital in Pitalito, near San Adolfo; another died in the provincial capital of Neiva; a third was airlifted to a Bogota hospital and died; and the fourth was kidnapped by the rebels but collapsed and died in a village near the scene of the attack, Caicedo said.

The FARC had no immediate reply to the accusations.

In the other violence, the three soldiers killed Tuesday had been trying to deactivate mines laid by the National Liberation Army, or ELN, near the village of Santa Rosa, 105 miles north of Bogota, Gen. Martin Orlando Carreno, commander of the Army's Fifth Brigade, said during an interview broadcast by the Radionet radio station.

At least 18 right-wing paramilitaries from the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia were killed -- apparently last week _ during clashes with the FARC near the village of Ituango, 205 miles northwest of Bogota, Ituango mayor Jorge Gutierrez said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, five civilians were killed in weekend fighting between the paramilitaries and rebels in Oru, 280 miles northeast of Bogota, according to an army press release.

Colombia's 37-year civil war, fueled by the drug trade, has claimed an estimated 35,000 lives.

baltimoresun.com