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Lugo vows to defeat Paraguayan rebels

Paraguayan People's Army bombs police station

Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo has ordered law-enforcement authorities to redouble their efforts "to exterminate" a small but growing rebel insurgency known as the Paraguayan People's Army (EPP).

The orders came after the leftist guerrillas on Sunday set off a bomb at a police station in the town of Horqueta, near the Brazilian border, which injured five officers.

Interior Minister Rafael Filizzola told Reuters on Tuesday that there are no more than 40 core members of the organization, and that "since they have chosen violence, the government must respond with force."

The EPP appeared on the scene in 1997 with a rash of kidnappings, the most high-profile taking place in 2005 when some of its members were accused of the kidnapping and murder of a daughter of former President Raúl Cubas Grau. In October 2009, the guerrillas struck again by kidnapping- but later releasing after three months - a wealthy rancher in the northern part of the country.

The EPP has also been blamed for a rash of attacks at police stations and government roadblocks. The insurgents are mostly active in the northern part of the South American country. Police Intelligence Chief Carlos Altemburguer also told Reuters on Tuesday that the EPP appeared to be changing their tactics. "Now we're seeing more attacks with explosives, which is more dangerous because they are indiscriminate," he said.

Asylum granted

The Bolivian government has criticized Lugo for granting political asylum to an opposition governor and key critic of President Evo Morales. Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca on Tuesday accused Paraguay of violating all types of international conventions governing political asylum.

Last Wednesday, the Lugo government decided to grant asylum to Mario Cossío, a former governor of Tarija department, who was dismissed last December by lawmakers for alleged corruption. Cossío, who claims the charges are political, fled to Paraguay.

Lugo said that he was confident that the decision of his National Commission on Refugees (Conare) would not harm Paraguayan-Bolivian relations.

But Choquehuanca said that Bolivia had sent all the evidence it had against Cossío to Conare and would continue to pressure Paraguay to extradite him. "If the authorities who are in charge of this Conare commission haven't taken into consideration all of the evidence they have been given, then they are putting their reputation and credibility under national and international rules at risk," he said, according to the Asunción daily ABC Color.