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FARC – a possible turning point

September 27, 2010

Latin American Herald Tribune, September 27, 2008

BOGOTA – Army troops found another body at the site where FARC military chief Jorge Briceño, known as “Mono Jojoy,” was killed in an airstrike last week in a mountainous section of the south-central province of Meta, Colombian media reported.

The body was found Saturday while soldiers were searching the site, located in an area known as La Escalera.

The body will be sent to the morgue in Bogota, where officials will try to identify the dead Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, member.

Victor Julio Suarez Rojas, better known as Jorge Briceño Suarez or Mono Jojoy, was killed early Thursday in a joint army, air force and police operation officials said.

Elite army units are pursuing about 700 FARC guerrillas who fled from the area after Mono Jojoy’s death.

President Juan Manuel Santos plans to visit La Macarena on Sunday to congratulate the troops deployed in the area.

A score of guerrillas who made up the security ring of the military chief – Colombia’s most-wanted man along with the FARC’s top leader, Alfonso Cano – were also killed in the airstrike.

Mono Jojoy was born on Feb. 5, 1953, in Cabrera, a town in the central province of Cundinamarca, and was a member of the secretariat, or high command, of the FARC.

He joined the rebel group in 1975 as a low-ranking insurgent and had been considered one of the FARC’s most radical and uncompromising leaders.

Both the Colombian government and the U.S. State Department had offered millions of dollars for information leading to his capture.

Even prior to Mono Jojoy’s death, the FARC, which has seen its numbers fall by more than half in recent years to roughly 8,000 fighters, had suffered a series of setbacks.

On July 2, 2008, the Colombian army rescued former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, U.S. military contractors Thomas Howes, Keith Stansell and Marc Gonsalves, and 11 other Colombian police officers and soldiers.

The FARC had been trying to trade the 15 captives, along with 25 other “exchangeables,” for hundreds of jailed guerrillas.

The rebels’ most valuable bargaining chip was Betancourt, a dual Colombian-French citizen the FARC seized in February 2002 whose plight became a cause celebre in Europe.

The guerrilla group is believed to still be holding some 700 hostages.

FARC founder Manuel Marulanda, who was known as “Sureshot,” died on March 26, 2008.

Three weeks earlier, Colombian forces staged a cross-border raid into Ecuador, killing FARC second-in-command Raul Reyes and setting off a regional diplomatic crisis.

Ivan Rios, a high-level FARC commander, was killed that same month by one of his own men, who cut off the guerrilla leader’s hand and presented it to army troops, along with identification documents, as proof that the rebel chief was dead.

The FARC, which has fought a succession of Colombian governments for decades, is on both the U.S. and EU lists of foreign terrorist organizations.

Drug trafficking, extortion and kidnapping-for-ransom are the FARC’s main means of financing its operations.

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