Colombian rebel commander killed in airstrike

Bogota, Feb 2 (IANS/EFE) A man identified by Colombian authorities as the commander of the FARC guerrilla group's 5th Front was killed along with five other insurgents in an airstrike on a rebel camp in the northern province of Cordoba, the military said.

Fingerprint analysis confirmed that Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, commander Jacobo Arango was among those who died in Thursday's operation, the air force said in a statement.

Arango's death is a "highly significant" blow to the rebel army, Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon said Friday.

"He was a man very close to (late FARC chief strategist) Mono Jojoy and (current rebel No. 2) Ivan Marquez, and was behind numerous massacres in Uraba (in the northwestern province of Antioquia) during the '80s and '90s," Pinzon said.

The minister congratulated the security force members who participated in the operation and noted that the FARC has lost its top commander, Alfonso Cano, and 27 other high-level chiefs over the past 16 months.

The FARC, which is currently in peace talks with the Colombian government, ended a two-month unilateral cease-fire Jan 20 and then subsequently captured two police officers last week in the southwestern province of Valle del Cauca.

The team representing the FARC guerrilla group in peace talks with the Colombian government said Wednesday that insurgents have the right to hold police and soldiers who fall into their hands in combat.

But the head of the Colombian government's negotiating team, former vice president Humberto de la Calle, said the FARC will not pressure the government into accepting its demand for a bilateral truce through such actions.

The FARC Friday called for a "big campaign to protect" the peace process amid what the insurgents describe as an escalation by the security forces.

"It's better to give a dialogue process sufficient time rather than perpetuate injustice and war with no other option" considered, the guerrilla group said in a statement read by Marquez upon his arrival at Havana's Convention Palace, the site of the peace talks.

--IANS/EFE

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