Fighters belonging to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, have pledged to continue their armed struggle after the death of their leader, Alfonso Cano, has dealt the group their biggest blow yet in the nearly five-decade-old war.
FARC, Latin America's largest armed anti-government group, also rejected a plea by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santo to demobilise, in a statement on Saturday on Anncol news website, which often carries its statements.
Cano was discovered and killed by three bullets on Friday after his camp was bombed, Colombian officials said.
The killing of Cano, a 63-year-old from Bogota's middle class, was celebrated by Santos as he addressed troops in Popayan in southern Colombia.
"This is the outcome of a very well-designed strategy, very well planned and very well executed," Santos said.
Financed mostly by drug trafficking, FARC is comprised largely of peasants with few other opportunities in a country where land ownership is highly concentrated in the hands of a few.
Cano was killed in a remote area of the southwestern state of Cauca along with three other fighters, two men and a woman, hours after his hideout in forested hills was bombed, officials said.
Cano was found unarmed, the director of the chief prosecutor's office's investigative unit said. Her agents positively identified the body by fingerprints.
Authorities released a photograph of Cano's head, indicating he had shaved off his trademark beard. Cano had been the principal target of Colombia's armed forces authorities since September 2010, when they killed FARC's military chief, Jorge Briceno, in a bombing raid in the southern Macarena massif.
Troops recovered seven computers and 39 computer drives belonging to Cano, as well as a stash of cash in currencies, including US dollars, euros and Colombian pesos, according to Juan Carlos Pinzon, the defence minister.
Cano's body was taken to Popayan, the capital of Cauca.
The group's leadership has suffered a series of blows beginning in March 2008, when its "foreign minister", Raul Reyes, was killed in a bombing raid on a camp across the border in Ecuador.
That same month, FARC's co-founder, Manuel Marulanda, died in a mountain hideout of a heart attack. Cano, the group's chief ideologist, was named to succeed him.
He released a number of video messages after Santos took office in which he urged the president to engage in dialogue with the fighters.
But Santos insisted Cano needed to make a peace gesture, such as halting all kidnappings. The FARC has not done so, and its fighters were blamed for two attacks last month that killed more than 20 soldiers.
The group also holds an unknown number of kidnap victims, apparently including four Chinese oil workers seized in June.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies