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Colombian Authorities Fear Possible Guerrillas' Attacks During Elections - 2002-03-10

In Colombia, the authorities have stepped up security measures across the country as million of voters are expected to cast their votes on Sunday's congressional elections. With the recent escalation of guerrilla warfare, following the breakdown of peace talks, the fear that left-wing rebels will sabotage the elections have never been higher.

Colombian army commanders proudly displayed 100 kilos of explosives they seized in Bogota during the arrest of 14 alleged left-wing rebels Friday. The authorities believe the guerrillas were planning to sabotage elections in the capital city.

"I'm sure with this action and other security measures we're taking, we will avoid any terrorism in the capital," stated army commander General Fredy Padilla.

In major cities across Colombia, the authorities have arrested more than 170 presumed members of left-wing rebel groups, in an attempt to avert any election sabotage.

It's been less than three weeks since peace talks fell apart between the government and the FARC, the country's largest left-wing guerrilla group. And Colombian authorities are anxious that the rebels will try to demonstrate their destructive power by disrupting the elections in any way they can. About 150,000 soldiers and police officers have been sent out across the country to protect polling stations.

Since the peace talks broke down, the FARC have blown up dozens of electricity towers and bridges, making it difficult for many rural voters to get to the polls. Along the Pacific Coast, 35 towns were plunged into darkness Friday after the rebels blew up two more electricity towers.

"We're sending out generators to make sure that at least the polling stations have electricity tomorrow," explained Parmenio Cuellar, governor of the region.

The Organization of American States has sent in election observers. OAS representative Santiago Murray, called on the guerrillas to respect the will of the people.

Despite the insecurity leading up to the elections, Colombia's President Andres Pastrana has made a plea to the 24 million eligible voters in the country to go to the polls to prove that the rebels cannot strangle democracy.