Bogota – At least seven police officers were killed and 12 others wounded early Thursday in an attack by FARC guerrillas on a camp for officers taking part in a coca-eradication campaign near Colombia's northeastern border with Venezuela, officials said.
A suspected rebel died and five others, including a girl, were wounded and captured in a firefight with police.
The attack occurred in Caño Curva, a mountain area outside the rural village of La Gabarra, Norte de Santander Gov. Edgar Diaz told reporters.
"It's regrettable, it's a day of mourning for the National Police," Diaz said in a press conference in Cucuta, the capital of Norte de Santander province.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, guerrillas caught the police officers by surprise, attacking them with home-made bombs and gunfire, the governor said.
Four officers died at the camp and three others died while being transported to hospitals in the provincial capital.
Six of the wounded officers taken to Erasmo Meoz Hospital are listed in "guarded condition," hospital spokesman Eusebio Gonzalez said.
Officers suffered burns, fractures and other injuries in the attack, the hospital said.
The officers belong to a mobile brigade providing security for coca-eradication teams.
The coca-eradication program is being run by the National Police's drug enforcement unit, whose commander, Gen. Luis Alberto Perez, headed to the scene of the attack.
"Regrettably, the eradication process has just led the terrorist groups to try to advance," Gov. Diaz said, adding that new approaches should be sought for dealing with illegal crops and helping peasants earn a living.
The attack set off a firefight with the rebels, who belonged to the FARC's 33rd Front, Perez said during the press conference in Cucuta.
"In this incident, we were also able to bring down one of the criminals who attacked our officers and we also captured five of them, including a woman who was wounded in the leg and is a minor," Perez said.
The FARC's 33rd Front is led by a man who calls himself Rogelio Benavides, who is the subject of a reward of 2 billion pesos (more than $1.12 million), the general said.
The guerrilla group's Ruiz Farid mobile column also operates in the area and rewards are being offered for that unit's leaders, Perez said.
The Colombian government has made fighting the FARC a top priority and has obtained billions in U.S. aid for counterinsurgency operations.
The FARC, Colombia's oldest and largest leftist guerrilla group, is on both the U.S. and EU lists of terrorist groups. Drug trafficking, extortion and kidnapping-for-ransom are the FARC's main means of financing its operations.
The FARC has suffered a series of setbacks in recent years at the hands of the Colombian security forces.
Alfonso Cano, the FARC's top leader, was killed on Nov. 4 in a military and police operation that the government hailed as the biggest blow to the FARC in its nearly 50-year history.
Cano, a 63-year-old intellectual who had entered the ranks of the FARC 30 years ago, was killed in in a remote area of the southwestern province of Cauca a few hours after fleeing a bombardment.
The FARC also suffered a series of blows in 2008, with the biggest coming in July of that year, when the Colombian army rescued a group of high-profile rebel-held captives: former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, U.S. military contractors Thomas Howes, Keith Stansell and Marc Gonsalves, and 11 other Colombian police officers and soldiers.