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Colombia rebel leader 'may be dead'
Bogota trying to corroborate report about Manuel Marulanda, Farc's longstanding chief.
Last Modified: 24 May 2008 22:44 GMT
Marulanda's death has not been confirmed, nor if he died from a military raid or heart attack [EPA]
The leader of Latin America's largest armed group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc), is dead, according to Colombia's defence minister.
 
Juan Manuel Santos has told Semana magazine that Manuel "Sureshot" Marulanda, Farc's commander for four decades, may have died on March 26, citing "a source who has never failed us".
He said the government was trying to corroborate the report.
 
Santos quoted "the guerrillas" as saying that Marulanda died of a heart attack, but noted that three bombing raids targeted him on that date.
 
Marulanda is believed to be about 80.
A senior government source who asked not to be identified, said: "The information we have is that [Marulanda] is dead. We are not sure of the circumstances, but he is dead."
 
Colombia's government has announced Marulanda's death on many occasions over the past 15 years, but each time proof that he was alive cropped up months later.

Santos also said Marulanda may have been replaced as Farc leader by Alfonso Cano.

The Colombian army said Cano has been cornered in the southwestern jungle for months, and that his death or capture is imminent.

But Farc statements have denied that Cano is in that area.

Peasant background

Born to a peasant family, Marulanda, whose real name is Pedro Antonio Marin, is believed to have been radicalised by the civil wars that raged in Colombia in the middle of the twentieth century.

He and other survivors of a 1964 army attack on a peasant community escaped to the mountains and formed Farc, which grew over the decades to include a reputed 15,000 fighters.

Marulanda's deadly aim in combat against the army earned him the name "Sureshot".

Famously reclusive, he is said to have never set foot in Colombia's capital, giving just a handful of interviews over the course of his life.

Farc has suffered a number of blows this year, including the killing of its chief spokesman, Paul Reyes, a senior commander, and the defection of a highly regarded female leader in the group.

Potent force

In recent years, Farc has been driven into remote jungle and mountain areas, but remains a potent force in some areas, bolstered by funds earned from cocaine smuggling.

Backed by billions in US military aid, the government of Alvaro Uribe, the Colombian president, has sent troops to retake areas once under Farc's control.

Attempts to negotiate the release of hostages held by Farc, including French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt and three Americans, are deadlocked over demands made by Farc that Uribe demilitarise a rural zone for negotiations.

Source:
Agencies
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