At least 23 dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel group were killed during an operation by the Colombian armed forces along the Venezuelan border, the defence ministry said.
The dissidents “died during military operations” carried out in the northern border department of Arauca, a narcotrafficking corridor that has seen fierce fighting between armed groups since the beginning of the year, a source in the ministry told the AFP news agency on Thursday.
Among the dead was a former FARC leader known as “Arturo”.
Five dissidents were additionally injured, the source said.
“This operation forcefully dismantles the FARC dissident structure,” Colombian defence minister Diego Molano said in a video published on social media.
Colombia signed a peace agreement in 2016 with the FARC to end a decades-long battle, but some dissident members of the group have chosen not to recognise it.
The defence minister said Arturo “took refuge in Venezuela and from there sought to reactivate the dissident groups to continue committing crimes”.
Former FARC dissidents, as well as members of Colombia’s last active guerilla group known as the ELN, have set up bases in Venezuela, where Colombian authorities say they receive government backing – an accusation Caracas denies.
Another rebel group leader known as “Ernesto” was also killed in the operation.
Last month, President Ivan Duque announced the “neutralisation” of the rebel group leader known as “Jhonier”, while in October of last year the alleged drug kingpin known as “Otoniel” was captured.
He is now awaiting extradition to the United States, where he was charged in 2015 – among other alleged Colombian drug traffickers – of conspiring to distribute cocaine, “knowing that it would be imported into the United States”.
In January, fighting between rebel groups near the Venezuelan border left at least 23 people dead. The groups were fighting over control of illegal economies such as drug trafficking, Colombia’s army said at the time.