Friday, June 21, 2024
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Colombians cheer killing of guerrilla kingpin

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POPAYAN, Colombia: Colombians rejoiced at the killing of top FARC rebel leader Alfonso Cano and hoped the biggest blow yet against Latin America’s longest insurgency could herald an end to nearly five decades of war.

In a triumph for President Juan Manuel Santos’ hardline security policy, officials said forces bombed a FARC jungle hide-out in the mountainous southwestern Cauca region.

Troops then rappelled down from helicopters to search the area, killing the widely hated Marxist rebel boss, his girlfriend and several other rebels in a gun battle on Friday.

Pictures of his dead body showed him without his trademark beard, eyes open and his thick glasses dangling from his neck.

Nobody expected the death of Cano, 63, who had a 3.7 million dollar bounty on his head, to spell a quick end to a war that has killed tens of thousands in the Andean nation.

Late on Saturday, the rebels vowed to fight on, saying in a statement on a website that often carries their messages that it was not the first time a top FARC leader had been killed.

But it will further damage the drug trade-funded rebels’ ability to coordinate high-profile bombings, ambushes and kidnappings that have brought them worldwide notoriety. ”It is the most devastating blow this group has suffered in its history,” Santos said, speaking at a military base in Popayan, a mountain town close to where Cano was killed.

”I want to send a message to each and every member of that organization: ‘Demobilize’ … or otherwise you will end up in a prison or in a tomb. We will achieve peace.”

Some Colombians spilled into the street overnight, dancing and chanting with joy: ”Cano is dead!” Local media splashed photos of Cano across their front pages.

While still supported in some hard left-wing circles due to the FARC’s roots as a peasant insurgency, most Colombians saw Cano as a thug funded by the cocaine trade. As well as the deaths, high-profile kidnappings have traumatized the nation and tarnished its global reputation time and time again.

The former student activist took over leadership of the rebels after the founder of the FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, died of a heart attack in 2008.

”This is brilliant news; it’s just one more of those delinquents dead and a step closer to peace,” said Horacio Londono, 53, buying cigarettes at a Bogota coffee stand.

Even prior to its decapitation, the FARC had been battered by a U.S.-backed military campaign that began in 2002. The waning insurgency has lost several other key commanders in the past few years.

Cano’s death came after intelligence from a former rebel. Six laptops were found along with 39 memory sticks, cell phones and cash in pesos, dollars and euros.

Cano’s death was a major strategic victory for Santos, who came to office last year vowing to keep up a hard-line security stance.

It will ease the pressure on the president, who has been criticized over a recent upsurge in small-scale attacks, and it will reassure investors in the booming oil and mining sectors.

Foreign investment in Colombia has surged since the military crackdown began in 2002. But the FARC and other armed groups still pose a threat in rural areas where state presence is weak and cocaine trafficking finances their operations. (UNI)

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