A leading newspaper said Friday that the government is hiding the magnitude of the cholera outbreak spreading along the country's Pacific coast.

Bogota's El Espectador newspaper, citing local doctors, reported Friday that more than 200 people in Colombia have contracted the bacterial disease and nine have died. Health Ministry spokesman Victor Mora had reported 180 cases and three dead.El Espectador based its article on interviews with medical personnel in Tumaco, the southern coastal city where the epidemic has hit hardest. The first cholera epidemic to plague Latin America in 100 years has killed 1,150 people in Peru and also spread into Ecuador, Chile and Brazil.

"Bogota won't let us talk," El Espectador quoted a health worker as saying after being asked about the number of cholera patients at his hospital. He was referring to the central government.

Tumaco radio journalist, Pablo Rosero, told the newspaper that the government's attention was like "a fifth-rate funeral."

"Medicines are scarce, patients are not receiving full dosages and rural zones are still unprotected," Rosero was quoted as saying.

Mora denied any government attempt to downplay the spread of cholera.