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Colombian Mayors Resign After Armed Rebels Threaten to Kill Them


In Colombia, the internal war has taken a new turn as left-wing rebels attempt to create a leadership crisis in the countryside by forcing local mayors out of office at gun point. This weekend more than two dozen mayors resigned from office after receiving death threats from the country's largest left-wing rebel group, the FARC. The rebels are now extending their threats to local leaders across the country.

When Mayor Orlando Giraldo announced his resignation Saturday, he had 22 fellow mayors standing behind him. Half of one of the most powerful provinces in Colombia, Antioquio, had just been thrown into leadership void.

The 23 mayors were given little choice. If they had not resigned by midnight Saturday, the FARC had threatened to kill them. And on Sunday, the guerrillas sent notice to the mayors of at least eight other provinces giving them until next Wednesday to resign or die.

Local governments in rural Colombia have been in the cross-hairs of the of country's of the country's armed insurgents for years, targeted either by the left-wing guerrillas or right-wing paramilitaries.

But in the past, the rebels tried to share power, forcing local leaders into paying them kickbacks from contracts or hiring rebel supporters in government jobs.

But now, the FARC is trying a new strategy. Instead of co-leadership, the armed guerrillas want no local leadership, hoping they will fill the political vacuum.

According to municipal leader Gilberto Toro, many mayors also face a counter threat from the rival right-wing paramilitaries.

Any mayor who leaves office because of guerrilla pressure, says Mr. Toro, will become a target of the paramilitaries as punishment for caving in to the FARC.

Since peace talks with the rebels broke down earlier this year, the FARC has turned to strategies that destabilize the economy and every day lives of Colombians.

So far, the central government's only response to this current crisis has been a promise of more military protection for local leaders. That will force the army to spread itself ever more thinly across the country.

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