LATIN AMERICA

Colombia kills 36 FARC rebels in surprise bombing raid

Military deals severe blow to insurgency after receiving tip-off about guerrilla's location

Forensic workers carry the bodies of the 36 FARC guerrillas killed in a bombing raid.
Forensic workers carry the bodies of the 36 FARC guerrillas killed in a bombing raid.MAURICIO DUEÑAS / EFE

The Colombian military dealt a severe blow to the country’s biggest insurgency early Monday morning, killing 36 members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), including a wanted drug trafficker, during an early morning bombing raid.

The military sent out 18 planes and helicopters, including six US-made Blackhawks, carrying 40 bombs — each containing 500 pounds of explosives — after receiving a tipoff that the FARC’s 27th Front had set up a camp near Vista Hermosa in Meta department. Five guerrillas were captured. The entire operation took just three minutes and totally destroyed the rebels’ camp. It was the second big blow to the FARC in less than a week following a similar operation on March 22 that left 33 guerrilla members dead.

Army General Jaime Lasprilla, commander of the elite Omega squad, said that the source that provided the government with the location of the camp had been rewarded for the information. “Monetary compensation is part of our plan to encourage people to cooperate and guarantee that the data the intelligence units have gathered is accurate,” Lasprilla said, as quoted by Bogotá daily El Tiempo.

Military officials said the camp had been set up several years ago and included trenches and a labyrinth of underground offices and storerooms.

Among the guerrilla fighters who were killed was Jaime Cortino Díaz, alias “Arcesio Niño,” who authorities say was the FARC’s top drug trafficker in the eastern part of the country.

Cortino, 52, was wanted for the September 2004 ambush of six Venezuelan soldiers and an engineer for the state-owned oil company Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA). Authorities, who were offering five billion pesos (2.1 million euros) for information leading to his capture, say Cortino was suffering from kidney failure and malaria. He joined the FARC 25 years ago.

Piedad Córdoba, a former senator who now heads the group Colombians for Peace and is said to be in contact with FARC leaders, said Monday that the blow would not affect the guerrillas’ plans to release 10 military and police officers who have been held captive for more than a decade. Family members of the 10 feared that the military’s recent offensives against the FARC would anger the guerrilla leadership and push them to break their pledge to release the hostages.

“Everything is still on track,” said Córdoba, who added that the releases would take place from April 2 to 4 in a rural area of Meta.

The government, which announced that it will not take part in the handover, pledged to suspend all its operations against the FARC during the release period. Army Commander General Alejandro Navas said that Monday’s attack was outside the scope of the temporary ceasefire period.

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