- The Washington Times - Friday, August 9, 2002

From combined dispatches

VALLEDUPAR, Colombia Alvaro Uribe, undaunted by a series of mortar attacks that killed 17 persons in the capital, Bogota, during his inauguration, urged Colombians yesterday to put aside fear and work together for peace.

The new president began his first full day in office with a dawn flight to a northern provincial town to lay out a new security plan.

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"We must overcome fear," Mr. Uribe told townspeople in Valledupar as hundreds of soldiers stood guard. "We do that by everybody getting involved."

He has proposed that 1 million Colombians become informants for government security forces, using government-provided radios to report rebel activities.

Asked by a reporter if he felt vulnerable after the attacks on Wednesday, Mr. Uribe said: "The country is vulnerable. That's why we started this fight."

The death toll from the attacks in Bogota rose overnight to 17, after three persons died from their injuries, the city's mayor's office said. Sixty persons initially were reported wounded in the attacks.

Police said yesterday that the nation narrowly escaped a much bigger and deadlier bombardment.

Using technology apparently acquired from the Irish Republican Army, the rebels set up a battery of 16 remote-controlled mortars in a street within range of the colonial Congress, where Mr. Uribe took the presidential oath on Wednesday.

Only four of the weapons were fired, hitting the nearby presidential palace and misfiring into the notorious Cartucho Street slum, where most of the victims where homeless beggars.

Bogota Mayor Antanas Mockus said two of the houses used to carry out the attacks were rented two weeks ago, suggesting a well-planned assault.

Mr. Mockus said intercepted radio communications implicated the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, in the attacks.

The FARC did not take responsibility, but it seldom does.

Mr. Uribe, who campaigned for office with the promise of wiping out the rebels, seemed unfazed by the guerrillas' opening salvo.

Wearing a yellow shirt with no tie, Mr. Uribe appeared relaxed as he arrivedin Valledupar, a provincial capital below the snowcapped Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains.

Robert B. Zoellick, the U.S. trade representative and head of the U.S. delegation, said yesterday that he admired Mr. Uribe's courage.

"The narco-terrorists tried to stop this election and they tried to stop the inauguration by killing innocent people," Mr. Zoellick said. "They failed."

The attacks were the rebels' first show of force against Mr. Uribe. About 3,500 people die every year in the country's war with the guerrillas. Mr. Uribe's own father was killed by rebels during a kidnapping attempt, and the new president has survived more than a half-dozen assassination attempts.

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