updated 5/24/2005 10:58:43 PM ET 2005-05-25T02:58:43

Suspected leftist guerrillas carrying assault rifles swept into a southern Colombia town Tuesday and attacked government offices, killing six town councilors and five others, authorities said.

The guerrillas, believed to be members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, opened fire at a local council meeting in the town of Puerto Rico, 200 miles south of Bogota, said Oscar Galvis, an official with Colombia’s secret police DAS.

Oscar Andres Nunez, director of the National Federation of Town Councils said several trucks full of FARC guerrillas arrived to the town’s main square, where the town hall is located, and began shooting. He said the guerrillas also fired on and threw grenades at a police station located in the town center.

Police identified the victims as six town council members, four police officers and a town official.

Puerto Rico town councilman Julio Casas said he saw a pickup truck zoom into the plaza, then bullets started flying.

FARC stronghold
“So I then escaped through a window, climbed a wall and jumped into a patio,” Casas told The Associated Press by telephone. “I heard the shots and the screams of my colleagues.”

Puerto Rico, a town of 25,000 residents, is located in Caqueta state in a region that has been a FARC stronghold for many years. The town’s mayor in 2001 was killed by FARC rebels, and the mayor who replaced him was then also killed by rebels. A third mayor was then chosen, and he barely escaped an assassination attempt by the FARC that killed his two bodyguards.

The FARC and a smaller rebel group have been fighting the government for social revolution for four decades. The conflict, which also includes right-wing paramilitary fighters, kills more than 3,000 people — mostly civilians — each year.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe began a military offensive against the 12,000-strong FARC last year that is heavily funded by the U.S. government. The offensive has succeeded in reducing the FARC’s numbers, but a string of recent deadly attacks have shown the rebels are still capable of delivering deadly blows to the armed forces and civilian populations.

The attack on Puerto Rico comes three days after the U.S. ambassador to Colombia visited the region to inaugurate a library and school that the United States helped fund.

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