Colombian rebels kill five soldiers in coca field

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    Colombian rebels kill five soldiers in coca field

    BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombian FARC rebels killed five soldiers after attacking them with explosives near the border with Ecuador while troops were eradicating illegal coca crops used to make cocaine, the army said Saturday.

    Colombia's long war is waning due to President Alvaro Uribe's U.S.-backed campaign to deploy troops to take on the guerrillas, but Latin America's oldest insurgency is still a force in rural areas where the state presence is weak.

    "Five soldiers were killed in an attack carried out by the 48th Front of the FARC in a rural zone," the army said in a statement referring to the guerrilla unit involved.

    The attack with explosives and improvised land mines took place in Putumayo province near Ecuador's border in the south of Colombia, where rebels and drug traffickers fight over coca fields. Colombia is the world's No. 1 cocaine exporter.

    Uribe steps down this year after two terms marked by his hard line against the FARC or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. His former defense minister Juan Manuel Santos and independent Antanas Mockus are leading the race before an election this month to succeed him.

    Violence, kidnapping and bombings from the four-decade-old war have generally eased and urban attacks are now rare. The FARC has stepped up attacks before the election. But its operations are limited to ambushes and hit-and-run attacks.

    (Reporting by Patrick Markey in Bogota; Editing by Peter Cooney)

    Saturday, May 1, 2010; 6:27 PM

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