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Barges Help Colombia Marines Patrol River

For a decade, leftist guerrillas held sway over Colombia’s Atrato River, ferrying arms and drugs along its strategic waters without a soldier in sight. All that changed when the government deployed a blunt new weapon that quickly altered the military landscape: ugly, 120-foot-long barges of fortified steel loaded with heavy machine-guns and a grenade launcher rigged with a video camera. The commander of one of the four new vessels patrolling the river boasts that its firepower is so feared that nobody even dares shoot at it. “The guerrillas don’t hassle us because they know how we can fight back,” said Lt. Nicolas Romero. Romero recently took The Associated Press on a two-day trip aboard his vessel along the murky Atrato River, which winds its way through the jungles of northwestern Colombia, near the border with Panama. Rebels and their right-wing paramilitary foes have been fighting over the river that is a key route for smuggling drugs into neighboring Central America bound for the United States. Full Story

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