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Ex-rebels' accounts aided Colombia military attack

March 22, 2012
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BOGOTA, Colombia—Former Colombian rebels provided information that helped the military plan a deadly air attack on a guerrilla camp, the commander of the country's air force said Thursday.

The military said the attack early Wednesday killed at least 33 rebels at the camp, and it claimed six other rebels were killed in separate operations this week.

The air force commander, Gen. Tito Pinilla, told radio station Caracol that rebels who defected from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, provided information that led to the attack in northeastern Arauca state.

He said five planes bombed the guerrilla camp for three minutes, and troops then stormed the camp.

Colombian television showed footage of soldiers lifting about 20 bodies out of a helicopter following the bombing. The bodies were wrapped in white sheets, some of them stained with blood.

The morgue in Arauca received 36 bodies that were handed over by the military late Wednesday, National Institute of Legal Medicine director Carlos Eduardo Valdes told The Associated Press. He said by phone that he did not have additional details.

The FARC has an estimated 9,000 guerrillas and has been fighting the government for decades.

The leftist group said last month that it is abandoning the practice of kidnapping and will soon free its last remaining "prisoners of war," referring to 10 soldiers and police officers who have been held for as long as 14 years.

Former Colombian Sen. Piedad Cordoba, who has served as a go-between, said Thursday that the first group of captives is to be freed March 30 and a second group will be released April 1.

Cordoba said she plans to begin the process Wednesday by traveling to the Brazilian town of Sao Gabriel da Cachoeira, near Brazil's border with Colombia, to meet with the crews of two military helicopters that Brazil has offered for the operation to pick up the captives. The International Committee of the Red Cross will also participate in the operation.

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