Colombian forces kill FARC commander close to chief negotiator

Fri Feb 1, 2013 11:59am EST
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By Jack Kimball and Luis Jaime Acosta

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombian government forces have killed a FARC brigade commander close to the Marxist group's chief peace negotiator, the defense minister said on Friday, as combat heats up after the expiration of a unilateral guerrilla ceasefire.

Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon said that Jacobo Arango, a FARC commander in a northwestern area straddling Cordoba and Antioquia provinces, a known drug route, was among six rebels killed in an assault on Thursday.

"It's a strike of great importance," he told reporters.

Arango was close to chief FARC peace negotiator Ivan Marquez, who was also Arango's direct commander, and he had been a rebel for more than three decades, Pinzon said.

Fighting has intensified since a unilateral FARC ceasefire expired on January 20, with guerrillas taking hostages, killing soldiers and blowing up oil and energy infrastructure. Government security forces have also stepped up operations.

The violence comes while the two warring sides talk peace in Havana to try to end a five-decade-long war that has killed tens of thousands of people.

Earlier this week, FARC freed three kidnapped oil contractors, but six guerrillas and five government soldiers were killed across the country.

Marquez questioned whether the government was serious about peace - the same doubt Bogota leveled at the guerrillas earlier this week.   Continued...