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Colombia troops kill 22 rebels in pre-vote offensive

Written by: Staff
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BOGOTA, Colombia, Apr 2 (Reuters) Colombian troops killed 22 Marxist rebels in an offensive aimed at preventing guerrilla attacks during campaigning for the May presidential election, the army said.

The army killed 14 members of the country's largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which is known by its Spanish initials FARC, and 8 members of the National Liberation Army, or ELN, army spokesmen said.

The fighting took place in six different regions of Colombia as part of an armed forces offensive aimed at weakening rebels ahead of the May 28 presidential election, they said.

President Alvaro Uribe, a close U.S. ally, is on course to win 64 percent of the vote in his bid for a second term, thanks largely to his tough policies against the rebels, according to a recent poll.

Violence related to the country's four-decade-old war has fallen sharply since Uribe won his first four-year term in 2002 and put the military on the offensive, although the armed forces say there are still more than armed 20,000 Marxist rebels, mainly in the countryside.

The rebels -- fighting for socialist revolution in a country with a huge divide between rich and poor -- have little support in the cities where most Colombians live but have grown strong in part thanks to money from kidnapping and cocaine trafficking.

REUTERS SK RN0422

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