Colombian senator escapes attack on campaign trail

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BOGOTA, Oct 13 (Reuters) A Colombian senator narrowly escaped an attack when left-wing guerrillas attacked his convoy while he was campaigning with one of his party's candidates for this month's local elections.

Guerrillas set off explosives and opened fire on bodyguards escorting a caravan transporting Sen Luis Fernando Velasco and a Liberal Party candidate as they traveled in Caqueta province about 215 miles south of Bogota, the senator and police said yesterday.

''An explosive went off in the middle of the road, we managed to pass though and then there was an exchange of gunfire,'' Velasco told reporters.

A soldier and a civilian were wounded in the attack.

Local police commander Col Jose Angel Mendoza blamed the attack on the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, which is fighting Latin America's oldest insurgency even as violence has dropped off sharply under President Alvaro Uribe.

At least 21 candidates have been killed during campaigning for October 28 elections for governors, mayors and local assembly deputies. Most of those attacks were carried out by the FARC but also by paramilitary gangs linked to cocaine trafficking.

Uribe, a Washington ally, has received billions of dollars in US aid to push back the FARC, disband right-wing paramilitaries and attack the cocaine trade. But the FARC keep fighting, aided by funds from drug trafficking.

Nearly half of Colombia's 1,090 municipalities are at risk of violence before the elections, officials say. A small explosive went off on Thursday outside a party campaign office in Bogota but the blast caused little damage.

Reuters DKS VP0555

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