Colombia’s rebel commander dead, says minister (Lead)

May 25th, 2008 - 10:24 am ICT by admin  

Bogota, May 25 (IANS) The top leader and founder of Colombia’s leftist guerrilla group may have died of a heart attack March 26, Colombia’s Defence Minister Juan Manuel Santos has said in a media interview. According to the minister, Manuel Marulanda, founder of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), might have died of a severe heart attack March 26, Semana magazine director Alejandro Santos quoted the minister as saying, EFE news agency reported Sunday.

The minister told the magazine that the information regarding the death of the leftist guerrilla leader has come from reliable sources within the group, Santos said.

However, officials at the defence ministry said the information was still in the process of being confirmed.

The FARC commander had been wrongly reported to have died on numerous earlier occasions. He had long been said to be sick and the last communication from him came during a broken attempt at peace talks from 1998 to 2002.

Marulanda, considered the oldest active guerrilla in the world, was born in Genova, a village in the central western province of Quindio, May 12, 1930.

According to some of his biographers, he earned his nickname “Sureshot” because of his excellent aim when firing a gun, but according to others, it was because “wherever he looks, he shoots a bullet.”

FARC is Latin America’s largest rebel army, which keeps hostage some high-profile people, including former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt. The US and European Union have listed the group as a terrorist organization.

The rebel group was founded in 1964 and today operates across a large swathe of this Andean nation. The rebel army has an estimated 8,000 to 17,000 fighters.

The administration of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has made fighting the FARC a top priority and has obtained billions of dollars from the US in aid for counterinsurgency operations.

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