HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Colombian Rebels Say They Downed US Plane
Pubdate: Sat, 04 Oct 2003
Source: Oklahoman, The (OK)
Copyright: 2003 The Oklahoma Publishing Co.
Author: Andrew Selsky, Associated Press Writer


BOGOTA, Colombia -- Colombia's smaller rebel army said it shot down a State 
Department plane that crashed last month, killing its Costa Rican pilot, 
while fumigating cocaine-producing crops.

It was the first claim of responsibility in the Sept. 21 downing of the 
OV-10 plane in northeastern Colombia. Mario Alvarado, the pilot, was the 
sixth U.S. government contractor killed in Colombia this year.

The claim by the National Liberation Army, seen Friday, was posted on the 
insurgent group's Web site.

The State Department earlier acknowledged the plane apparently was "struck 
by hostile ground fire" during operations in Catatumbo, a mountainous and 
jungle-covered region near the Venezuelan border.

The statement from the rebel group said that from Sept. 12-20, its fighters 
also shot and hit two other spray planes and two military helicopters that 
protect the planes. One of the helicopters had to make an emergency landing 
after being struck by rebel gunfire, the group said.

A U.S. Embassy official said Friday the U.S. spray planes faced increasing 
gunfire as the fumigation of drug crops -- which are "taxed" and protected 
by rebels and their paramilitary foes -- gains pace in Colombia.

"They were impacted more than 300 times by gunfire this year," the official 
told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. "They take ground fire 
on a regular basis."

Colombian military commanders leading the operations in eastern Colombia 
said last week the rugged conditions in Catatumbo were very difficult and 
perhaps the most challenging the fumigation pilots have faced in Colombia.

Colombia's bigger rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia 
are also dug into the Catatumbo region and are protecting the coca crops.
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