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Cablegate: Farc Attempts Major Kidnapping in Huila Department

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

id: 14382
date: 2/27/2004 20:52
refid: 04BOGOTA2071
origin: Embassy Bogota
classification: CONFIDENTIAL
destination:
header:
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.


----------------- header ends ----------------

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BOGOTA 002071

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/27/2014
TAGS: PGOV PTER PINR PREL CO FARC
SUBJECT: FARC ATTEMPTS MAJOR KIDNAPPING IN HUILA DEPARTMENT

Classified By: Ambassador William B. Wood for reaons 1.5 (b)
and (d).

-------
Summary
-------

1. (C) On February 23, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of
Colombia's (FARC) Teofilo Forero Mobile Column (TFMC)
launched simultaneous attacks on a luxury residential complex
in Neiva, Huila department, the city's power grid, and an
isolated military outpost west of the city. A quick police
response prevented a mass kidnapping in Neiva, although
guerrillas escaped with two wealthy hostages. The Army,
which lost at least 12 soldiers during the FARC's assault on
the military base, failed to respond to either the kidnapping
or the attack on the base, which lasted five hours.
President Uribe responded to the setback by requesting the
resignation of military and civilian intelligence officials,
including the commander of the Ninth Brigade and the local
director of the Department of Administrative Security (DAS).
Local press coverage is calling this the most ambitious FARC
operation in months, and a setback for the government. End
Summary.

---------------------
A Well-Planned Attack
---------------------

2. (C) In one of its most well-coordinated, dramatic
operations since its bombing of Bogota's El Nogal social club
in February 2003, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia
(FARC) coordinated nearly simultaneous attacks on a luxury
condominium complex in Neiva, capital of Huila department,
the city's power grid, and an isolated military outpost west
of the city. At around 11:00 p.m. on February 23,
approximately 20 guerrillas from the FARC's Teofilo Forero
Mobile Column (TFMC) arrived at a luxury condominium complex
on the outskirts of Neiva. Dressed as Army GAULA
(anti-kidnapping) officials and using vehicles similar to
those used by the Army, they presented false documentation to
the complex's private security guards that allowed them to
obtain access to the high-security residential community.
Once inside, they immobilized the guards and kidnapped
residents of pre-selected apartments, blowing down front
doors with explosives when necessary. All told, the FARC
attempted to kidnap approximately 30 persons, including
prominent local businessman Luis Ernesto Bernal and cattle
rancher Luis Fernando Borrero, reportedly a personal friend
of President Uribe.

3. (C) The Colombian National Police (CNP), who were on high
alert because of intelligence pointing to an imminent attack,
responded immediately, forcing the guerrillas to release all
but two of their hostages before they left the complex.
Three CNP officers and one civilian were injured in the gun
battle. The guerrillas, following a well-planned escape
route lined with obstacles and booby-traps that slowed police
pursuit, managed to escape with Bernal and Borrero. Their
escape took place in total darkness, thanks to a successful
FARC attack on the city's power grid.

4. (C) Simultaneous to the Neiva kidnapping operation, in an
apparent diversionary attack, the TFMC assaulted an isolated
Army outpost west of Neiva. The five-hour attack included
the use of gas cylinder bombs and left at least 12 of the
post's 35 soldiers dead. The Army's 9th Brigade, based in
Neiva, which did not respond to the mass kidnapping attempt,
also failed to send reinforcements to the isolated base under
assault.

---------------
A Proven Tactic
---------------

5. (C) Disguising themselves as Colombian government
authorities to gain access to homes and government facilities
is a time-proven FARC tactic. The TFMC conducted similar
kidnappings at another luxury apartment complex in Neiva in
July 2001 and Cali's provincial assembly headquarters in
April 2002. Over 20 hostages from those mass kidnappings are
still in FARC hands.
-------------------------
Zero Tolerance From Uribe
-------------------------
6. (C) President Uribe held regional and national leaders of
the security forces responsible for failing to anticipate and
prevent the attacks, immediately requesting the resignations
of the Army's Ninth Brigade commander, the military's
National GAULA director and local Huila director, and the
director, deputy director, and intelligence chief of the
Department of Administrative Security's (DAS) Huila office.
-------
Comment
-------

7. (C) Local press coverage is declaring this
near-destruction of a military outpost and major attack
against civilians in a high-security residential complex the
largest FARC attack in months and a clear setback. In
contrast to the Cali and 2001 Neiva kidnappings, however, the
CNP's preparation and response prevented a much larger
kidnapping.
WOOD

=======================CABLE ENDS============================

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