Candidate killings rise ahead of Colombia vote

Colombia has been gripped by decades of armed conflict between leftist guerrillas.

Bogota: At least 14 candidates for Colombia`s local elections in October have been killed since the start of the year, apparently by guerrilla and ex-paramilitary groups, a watchdog organisation has said.

The Election Monitoring Mission (MOE) said in a new report that 14 candidates have been killed, another six attacked and 19 threatened.

"Five months before the elections, this number of cases does not constitute an ideal democratic scenario," MOE director Alejandra Barrios said.

Although the final selection of candidates has not yet been completed, hundreds have already taken to the campaign trail in cities and departments across the country.

On Monday, two rightwing candidates were killed in the northwestern Antioquia province, which has been the most afflicted by the violence.

"These events are the work of different illegal organisations, both guerrilla groups and newer criminal gangs" composed of former rightwing paramilitary fighters and drug traffickers, Barrios said.

The government has meanwhile expressed concern that such groups could secretly run candidates in the local elections to win control of public funds and to better secure lucrative smuggling routes.

"They seek to control the proceeds of the petroleum industry taxes, illegal mines and strategic corridors for drug trafficking," Interior Minister German Vargas said recently.

Colombia has been gripped by decades of armed conflict between leftist guerrillas -- including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) -- as well as right-wing paramilitary groups and powerful drug cartels.

FARC is Colombia`s oldest and largest guerrilla force, believed to have some 8,000 members. The leftist group has been at war with the government since its founding in 1964.

Bureau Report

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