At least 15 dead in clashes in southwest Colombia

ARGELIA, COLOMBIA: Colombian authorities on Friday informed that at least 15 people have been killed during clashes between the FARC rebel group and a local drug trafficking organization in southwest Colombia.

According to Caracol Radio, the deadly clashes began on Monday in the rural area of the Argelia municipality. The fighting still continues as the two criminal organizations are engaged in a territory dispute.

Argelia authorities said that on Thursday, thirteen bodies were recovered and two more were found this morning. However, authorities fear that the death toll may increase as high as 20 in the coming hours.

The Colombian Army and police forces arrived to the area to assess the situation. However, access is not easy as the region can only be reached by a three-hour ride followed by a four-hour walk.

FARC members engaged in combat with a local drug trafficking organization known as "Los rastrojos" at the Las Perlas and Las Ceibas villages. Due to the heavy fighting, local peasants have fled their homes and are currently displaced.

The fighting erupted as FARC released the first of five hostages expected to be freed this week. Colombian politician Marcos Baquero was released after one year and seven months of captivity. Two more abducted individuals are expected to be freed on Friday.

The release of the abducted individuals is being negotiated by former senator Piedad Córdoba, who has managed other releases by the guerrillas since 2008. The Colombian government has demanded the release of all hostages as a condition for any talks with the left-wing group.

(Copyright 2011 by BNO News B.V. All rights reserved. )

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