Colombia's FARC installs new leader

2011-11-16 14:03
Bogota - Colombia's Marxist FARC rebels have named a new leader after the death of Alfonso Cano earlier this month in a clash with government forces, local media reported on Tuesday.

Cano, who had led the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia since 2008, was gunned down in a November 04 fire fight during a day-long operation in which his female companion also died.

Cano was quietly buried on Tuesday at a cemetery on the outskirts of Bogota after his body was turned over to a representative of his family by the government, the Caracol television station reported, showing images of a coffin being taken into a chapel at the cemetery.

President Juan Manuel Santos praised the military attack that felled the long-sought rebel leader and urged the FARC to lay down their arms and begin peace talks with the government.

But the rebels shrugged off his overture, and named Timoleon Jimenez, alias Timochenko, as their top leader, according to a FARC statement broadcast by national media.

"Comrade Timoleon Jimenez, voted in unanimously by his comrades on the Secretariat [FARC leadership], was named on November 05 as new commander" the statement, published in El Tiempo de Bogota, said.

"Continuity of the Strategic Plan as such is assured until power has been taken for the people," the text added.

Timochenko, 52, was commander of the regional unit in Magdalena Medio, commanding about 800 troops.

Campaign of kidnappings

Colombian Defense Minister Carlos Pinzon, in Washington for meetings with US officials, said Timochenko was someone "who thinks that terrorism, drug trafficking, kidnapping, the recruitment of minors and human rights violations is the alternative".

"We will continue to use all means and capabilities available to confront these types of threats no matter what name they go by today or tomorrow," he said.

The FARC, believed to have 8 000 members, has been at war with the government since 1964. It began a campaign of kidnappings in the mid-1980s, seizing army hostages to serve as bargaining chips for FARC prisoners. By the late 1990s, civilians and political leaders were also being snatched, winning the group greater notoriety.

The operation to kill Cano was the latest in a string of recent military victories in the government's quest to eradicate Latin America's longest-running leftist insurgency, after years of unsuccessful attempts to find a negotiated solution.

The FARC lost its number two Raul Reyes during a Colombian army raid in Ecuadoran territory in 2008.

That same year, the FARC also lost Manuel "Sure Shot" Marulanda Velez, the reclusive 80-year-old rebel chief, who was last seen in 1982. He died after a brief illness.

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