Colombian rebels say they killed 16 soldiers

Bogota, Mar 18 (EFE).- Colombia's FARC rebels claimed responsibility for the deaths of at least 16 members of the security forces in the strife-torn southwestern province of Cauca, but the government said the guerrillas were lying.

In a March 15 communique posted on the Internet late Sunday, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, reported that the soldiers were killed in a minefield.

A source in the community of Buenos Aires consulted by Efe confirmed, in turn, that a group of soldiers were killed in a minefield during various clashes between the FARC and the army in the area.

"On Sunday (March 10), the community of La Esperanza found half the body of a soldier, from the waist up and in a uniform, at the site where (a mine) exploded," said the source, who requested anonymity.

He also said that around the minefield were other human remains, including "a left foot and other extremities."

Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon countered this report and said that the supposed deaths of the 16 soldiers "are lies" being told by the FARC and he added that the insurgent group "is inventing these fantastic things so as to give an image of strength that they don't have."

Last November in Havana, the FARC and the Colombian government began negotiations to put an end to the armed conflict that has besieged the South American country for some 50 years, while in Colombia itself military bombardments continue, along with guerrilla activity and combat, given that no cease fire will be put in place until a peace agreement is signed.