Key FARC leaders among Colombia casualties

Officials say at least eight key rebel leaders were among 36 killed during army operation on Monday.

    Colombian authorities say eight key rebel leaders were among the 36 killed during a Colombian army operation in a remote jungle region on Monday.

    Monday's raid against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in central Colombia marked the second blow to the drug-funded group in less than a week.

    "This shows that our armed forces continue their offensive and are not going to stop," President Juan Manuel Santos said during a meeting of security officials in the provincial city of Villavicencio.

    The dawn attack in the  province of Meta brought the total number of FARC rebels killed by the armed forces to 69 after an attack last Wednesday killed 33 rebels who were resting in the northern plains region of Arauca.

    The operations form part of a new military strategy to fight the nation's largest rebel group by destroying their key armed and financial units, marking a shift from the previous focus of tracking down and killing their leaders.

    Billions of dollars in US military aid have helped Colombia lead a military offensive that has killed off top leaders of the group and pushed them further into isolated mountain and jungle regions.

    Still formidable

    The FARC's fighting force has dropped by close to half to about 8,000 in the past decade and many of the group's key
    commanders and founding members are dead.

    The new strategy focuses on using intelligence to track down specific battle units and choke off their sources of financing, which include drug trafficking, illegal metals mining and extortion.

    The group said last month it would abandon its decades-long policy of kidnapping for ransom and free military and police
    hostages it holds in jungle camps.

    The liberation is expected to begin at the start of April.

    But the FARC, Latin America's longest-running rebel group, remains a formidable force and continues to attack towns and oil installations in efforts to weaken industries such as mining and energy that have helped Colombia's economy grow.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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