Police Open Fire On Coca Farmers, 2 Killed

SATURDAY, AUG. 3, 1996

Soldiers opened fire Friday on thousands of coca farmers protesting government plans to destroy their crops. Two farmers were killed, medical workers said.

Another 22 people were wounded by shots or by beatings, said Dr. Manuel Zuniga of the Puerto Asis hospital, where the dead and wounded farmers were taken.

Tens of thousands of coca farmers have left their fields and gathered in this town 340 miles southwest of Bogota. The farmers have forced shop closings and blocked roads throughout Putumayo, a jungle state on the border with Ecuador.

“The state is practically paralyzed. Businesses are shut,” said Gov. Jorge Fuerbringer in a radio interview.

The farmers say it doesn’t pay to grow anything other than coca - the plant used to make cocaine - in the remote region. They say government crop substitution programs are inadequate.

Government officials say guerrillas who guard coca crops and processing laboratories are behind the peasant protests. But the farmers deny rebel involvement.

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