March 2, 2008 / 8:26 AM / 10 years ago

Nicaragua's Ortega condemns FARC commander killing

MANAGUA, March 2 (Reuters) - Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega condemned Colombia’s killing of a top rebel commander and said it could hurt the chances of a peace accord.

Ortega, a former Marxist revolutionary and U.S. Cold War foe who was voted back to power in late 2006, called on Colombian President Alvaro Uribe to seek a peace process with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

Colombia’s military said on Saturday its troops had killed Raul Reyes, one of seven members of the FARC secretariat, in a severe blow to Latin America’s oldest guerrilla insurgency.

"They are killing the possibility of a peace process in an act of total provocation, because the doors opened a few days ago," Ortega said in a speech late Saturday, referring to the FARC’s liberation of four hostages earlier this week.

Reyes, considered by analysts to be the No. 2 FARC commander, was killed in Ecuador in an operation that included air strikes and fighting with rebels across the border, Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos said. In total, 17 rebels were killed.

Reyes is the most senior member of the FARC to be killed in Uribe’s U.S.-backed campaign against the guerrillas fighting a more than four-decade-old conflict.

Violence from Colombia’s conflict has ebbed under Uribe, who has sent troops to drive back the rebels. But the FARC is still potent in remote areas, where it holds scores of hostages, including three Americans and French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt.

Ortega is a close ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, whose role in negotiating the release of FARC hostages has fueled tensions with Colombia. Chavez on Saturday accused Uribe of violating Ecuadorean territory with the attack and warned a similar operation in Venezuela would be a declaration of war.

In December, Colombia complained to Nicaragua after Ortega referred to FARC chief Manuel Marulanda as a "dear brother".

Nicaragua and Colombia are also at odds over sovereignty of small islands in the Caribbean. (Reporting by Ivan Castro, editing by Jackie Frank)

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