- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 25, 2003

BOGOTA, Colombia — Guerrillas attacked an army base, ambushed police and launched other attacks across Colombia yesterday, killing at least 10 persons, as Colombians voted in a referendum seen as a test of President Alvaro Uribes support.

Rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) attacked a base of the armys Sixth Brigade in the western city of Ibague with explosives and gunfire early yesterday, killing one soldier and wounding two others.

FARC rebels also ambushed police patrols near the southwestern villages of Jambalo and Silvia, killing six officers.

A bomb planted by suspected rebels exploded outside a milk processing factory in the northwestern town of Yarumal, killing three persons and wounding five. The manager of the Colanta factory, Jenaro Perez, is a friend and political ally of Mr. Uribe.

FARC rebels also blocked a major highway leading from the third-largest city, Cali, to Buenaventura on the Pacific coast, and burned a half-dozen trucks.

A Colombian senator narrowly escaped that attack. Upon seeing the rebel roadblock, Sen. Juan Carlos Martinezs driver made a U-turn. The car came under a hail of rebel gunfire but no one inside was hurt.

The attacks were the rebels response to government attempts to not only strengthen its hand through the referendum yesterday but to also stage municipal and state elections through the country today.

The U.S. Embassy in Bogota warned Americans that terrorist attacks “could specifically target popular commercial and night life centers, including shopping complexes, restaurants and populated areas with concentrations of such establishments.”

Even before the election-day violence, there were indications that voter apathy could undermine the referendum. To be valid, at least 25 percent of registered voters, or 6.2 million people, needed to participate. A recent Gallup poll found that only 23 percent of voters would do so.

Mr. Uribe urged voters to turn out as their patriotic duty.

“The referendum is not a miracle, but it is a step against corruption and political misconduct,” he said before voting in Bogotas main Plaza Bolivar.

The referendums 15 proposals would give Mr. Uribe a freer hand to clamp down on corruption, ban tainted politicians from holding office, make congressional spending more accountable and cut the number of seats in Congress from 267 to 218.

It also included plans to freeze public-sector salaries for at least two years and cap state pensions in an effort to trim spiraling deficits.

A “yes” vote would be seen as a popular endorsement of Mr. Uribes campaign to crush leftist guerrillas and destroy the illicit drug crops that supply them with cash to buy guns. A defeat could weaken his political standing.

The measures were staunchly opposed by trade unions, leftist politicians and by some within the presidents own party.

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