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Bombs Kill 4 in Colombian Capital

Two bombs exploded in front of Bogota's National University during...

Two bombs exploded in front of Bogota's National University during rush hour today in what officials described as a terrorist attack, killing four people and awakening fears that Colombia's largely rural civil war has expanded to cities.

The explosions, which occurred within 10 minutes of each other, injured more than 20 people who live and work in the apartments and offices around the prestigious public university. Armored assault vehicles and columns of officers carrying shields poured into the middle-class neighborhood, where the bombs went off near a busy pedestrian overpass at 8:10 a.m.

Following the discovery of a bomb in central Bogota earlier this week, the blasts set the capital on edge. It was unclear whether Colombia's two leftist guerrilla armies, drug traffickers or a growing rightist paramilitary force were responsible for the bombs. "We are going to pursue these people," President Andres Pastrana said at a news conference. "We are going to hit them with the full force of the law and make them pay for these crimes."

Last week, a bomb killed eight people and injured more than 130 others in Colombia's second-largest city, Medellin. That bomb was related to a dispute between a local gang and the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, the 8,000-member paramilitary army. Another bomb exploded this month in Cali, Colombia's third-largest city, in a dispute between rival drug gangs. Two car bombs were defused Thursday in Barrancabermeja, a northern city that has been the site of a prolonged paramilitary siege.

The bombing in Bogota appeared to be a political act directed at Pastrana's troubled peace efforts. It came as the Senate is debating legislation that would give the military broad new powers to wage war against the illegal armed groups. Members of the U.S. Congress, which last year approved a $1.3 billion package of mostly military aid for Colombia, have objected to the bill on the grounds that it would limit the government's ability to prosecute troops for human rights abuses.

Pastrana, who canceled a trip to France to huddle with his security council, is struggling to maintain peace talks with Colombia's two main leftist guerrilla armies. Complicating those negotiations is Colombia's growing paramilitary army, which Pastrana's government has been accused of allowing to operate with impunity. The paramilitary army fights Colombia's guerrillas on the same side as the military.

After several recent arrests of paramilitary leaders, including a raid Thursday against the group's alleged financial backers, Pastrana's government suggested today that the bombs might be a reprisal.


washingtonpost.com