BOGOTA Feb 1 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
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 Jan. 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
"Now there have been many and strident government 'No's' to
all our initiatives for peace in Colombia," Marquez told
journalists on Friday in Havana.
"The Colombian people have heard through the media the
repeating of the government order to intensify the war, now
strangely it's accompanied by complaints about its consequences,
while they call us cynics," he added.
President Juan Manuel Santos has said he wants to achieve a
peace deal within a year, and the FARC, or the Revolutionary
Armed Forces of Colombia, have called for a bilateral truce.
However, Santos has rejected the idea of a ceasefire until a
deal is signed.
The area where Arango was killed had historically been a
region where right-wing paramilitaries fought guerrillas for
control and is near the site where paramilitary leaders agreed
with the government to demobilize in the early 2000s.
Today, the region is a microcosm of the security challenges
plaguing many of the areas of Colombia where guerrillas and
powerful gangs linked to the former paramilitaries fight for
control over drugs and territory.
A U.S.-backed military offensive against rebels and drug
gangs since 2002 has made vast strides in improving security in
what is Latin America's No. 4 oil producer, opening up swathes
of the country to investment, especially in the oil and mining
sectors. But Colombia has yet to fully escape its bloody past.
Colombian forces killed 353 members from all the country's
rebel groups in the January to October period last year, almost
as many as killed in the full-year 2012, but down from highs of
around 2,000 in the early 2000s, defense ministry data showed.
The ministry does not break down security forces killed by
insurgents alone, but 336 members were killed while on duty in
the January to October period in 2012, down 94 percent from the
same period in 2011, the data showed.
(Additional Reporting by Nelson Acosta in Havana; Editing by