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At Least 15 Killed in Colombia Violence - 2003-02-15

An explosion in Colombia has killed at least 15 people and injured around 30 more in the southern city of Neiva, Friday. This is only the latest violent incident authorities are blaming on leftist rebels.

The explosion in Neiva occurred after police entered a house in a residential area searching for explosives. Local police officials say evidence found after the blast leads them to believe the explosives may have been part of a plot to kill Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, who was scheduled to visit the town on Saturday.

Police officials say they found mortars that could have been used to fire on the presidential plane as it flew low overhead. Police are blaming the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, for the blast.

On Friday of last week a powerful bomb destroyed an exclusive club in the northern part of Colombia's capital of Bogota, killing more than 30 people. Authorities also blamed the FARC for that incident.

On Tuesday, Colombia's Defense Minister, Marta Lucia Ramirez, while on a visit to Washington, suggested that foreign terrorist groups may have been involved in the bombing. Colombia has asked both Britain and Spain for help in investigating possible links between the FARC and the Irish Republican Army, known as the IRA, and the Basque separatist group known as the ETA.

In 2001, Colombian officials arrested three alleged members of the IRA and charged them with helping to train FARC operatives in the use of explosives. The three men have denied the charges and spokesmen for the FARC have also denied having any association with the I-R-A.

The bombings come at a time when President Uribe, who took office in August of last year, is stepping up military efforts to defeat the FARC as well as another leftist rebel group and a rightwing paramilitary organization.

Colombia's civil conflict began four decades ago and has resulted in thousands of deaths each year. Until recently, most of the violence took place in rural areas, but bombings and other attacks on civilians are now becoming more common.