Colombian rebel attacks intensify, dozens killed
* 8 police, 2 rebels killed in Friday's guerrilla assault
* A total of 55 dead this month in insurgent violence
By Hugh Bronstein
BOGOTA, Sept 10 (Reuters) - Left-wing guerrillas have increased their attacks against police installations in cocaine-producing areas of southern Colombia, killing eight officers on Friday and bringing this month's death toll to 55.
President Juan Manuel Santos took office last month, promising to keep up pressure on the drug-running insurgents.
But his government has gotten off to a difficult start in the provinces of Narino and Putumayo, where the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has gone on the offensive.
The provinces bordering Ecuador are key to the cocaine smuggling operations that fund Colombia's decades-old insurgency. On Friday authorities said the rebels used missiles made from cooking gas cylinders stuffed with explosives to blast a police station near the town of San Miguel, Putumayo.
Fifty-five police, soldiers and guerrilla fighters have been killed this month as the rebels launch raids meant to show they are still a threat after an eight-year U.S.-backed security push under previous President Alvaro Uribe.
Colombians have come to expect a rise in rebel violence at times of government transitions. But the recent hit-and-run assaults are a far cry from past sieges in which whole towns were taken, bridges destroyed and dozens of people kidnapped.
Narino and Putumayo have a large police presence as part of the government's anti-narcotics effort.
"The FARC is taking advantage of this by attacking small police installations that do not have much counter-attack capacity," said Mauricio Romero, political analyst at Bogota's Javeriana University.
Top military officials were scheduled to meet in the capital on Friday to review security strategy.
Previous Colombian leader Uribe was popular for pushing the rebels out of the cities and off the highways. His policies attracted investment and sparked an oil and mining boom.
Wall Street has embraced the new government's plans for consolidating Uribe's security gains, spurring economic growth and cutting Colombia's nagging fiscal deficits. (Editing by Vicki Allen)
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