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Colombia vows to continue rescues

By Associated Press,
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 7, 2003

MEDELLIN, Colombia - Colombian rebels began shooting hostages as soon as they heard military helicopters flying overhead, one of the captives said, describing a botched rescue attempt in which a state governor, former defense minister and eight captive soldiers were killed.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe took responsibility for the failed jungle raid in an emotional television address late Monday in which he asked for the nation's support in Colombia's fight on terrorism.

But despite a growing public clamor to exchange jailed guerrillas for dozens of remaining hostages, including a presidential candidate and three Americans, Colombia's military commander vowed Tuesday to push ahead with more rescue operations.

Gov. Guillermo Gaviria and former Defense Minister Gilberto Echeverri were among those killed in Monday's failed rescue effort. Three captive soldiers survived, two with gunshot wounds.

One of the survivors, army Cpl. Antinor Hernandez, said he escaped by pretending to be dead.

"When three shots rang out, I threw myself to the ground and Gilberto (Echeverri) fell injured on top of me, and they shot him again and shot me in the leg," Hernandez said. "But since I didn't move, they thought I was dead."

He said the rebels fled after killing the hostages, and the army arrived within 20 minutes.

Uribe took responsibility for the raid, but vowed to continue his hardline stance against the rebels, who have waged war in this South American country for 38 years.

"In this moment of pain, Colombia cannot surrender," he said. "We must now fortify our decision to defeat terrorism."

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