updated 9/5/2004 8:37:59 PM ET 2004-09-06T00:37:59

A gunfight broke out in a church in a cocaine-producing region of southern Colombia, leaving at least three people dead and 14 wounded, authorities said Sunday.

The bloodshed began when assailants entered the church Saturday night and shot and killed a man in the pews, said Maj. Eduardo Beltran, police commander in Puerto Asis, where the attack occurred.

The apparent target of the hit men was in another row with his family, however, and when the shooting started, he took out a gun and shot back, the commander said. “It turned into a firefight,” Beltran said.

He said investigations indicate that right-wing militia groups or common criminals may have been behind the attack in Puerto Asis, some 330 miles southwest of Bogota, the capital.

Among the dead were two men and one woman, Beltran said. One of the injured was a child, he added.

Pilar Castro, a hospital doctor, told local radio that the death toll numbered four, and included children. There was no immediate way to account for the discrepancy.

“We need blood because in this little hospital there are no reserves,” Castro said.

Much of Colombia’s coca — the main ingredient for cocaine — has been farmed in the Putumayo province where Puerto Asis is located. The coca crops are “taxed” and protected by the rebels and their paramilitary foes.

The United States has been carrying out a massive fumigation effort in Putumayo and other parts of Colombia, the world’s main producer of cocaine, to wipe out the drug crops.

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