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Colombian rebels planting landmines in Panama: government

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Fri Jul 2, 2010 11:57pm EDT

PANAMA CITY (Reuters) - Colombian drug-running rebels are planting landmines in neighboring Panama along cocaine smuggling routes between the two countries shared border, a top Panamanian official said on Friday.
"Panama, for the first time, is finding landmines in its territory," said Jose Raul Mulino, Panama's public security minister, without specifying how many devices were found.Authorities found the landmines in the remote, densely forested Darien province where two Panamanian border police were injured last week in a mine blast.Colombian President Alvaro Uribe on a visit to Panama this week said the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, were responsible for planting the mines that wounded the police officers.The FARC has been smuggling cocaine to the United States for two decades, according to U.S. anti-drug officials. In Colombia, where the FARC are fighting a decades-old insurgency against the government, they regularly use homemade landmines to attack Colombian troops and protect coca fields.The group has turned increasingly to overland routes across the porous border with Panama to haul drugs. Rebels use indigenous people as guides and mules as more police sea a!
nd air patrols cut off traditional smuggling routes northward."In this region they are protecting something with mines," Mulino said, adding the Panamanian government was stepping up efforts to stop the incursions.Panamanian border police shot and killed three suspected FARC rebels in January. A month later, coast guardsmen fought gun battles with suspected traffickers near port towns close to the Colombian border. After the attacks, outgunned Panamanian border police told Reuters they feared reprisals and the landmines could signal escalating violence.(Reporting by Sean Mattson; Editing by Doina Chiacu)

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