November 17, 2011 / 5:00 PM / 8 years ago

Give up or die, Santos tells Colombia rebel boss

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos warned the new FARC rebel chief to reconsider waging war or risk the same fate as his predecessor, who was shot dead by special forces this month.

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos speaks to the media in Popayan November 5, 2011. REUTERS/Jaime Saldarriaga

The naming of hard-liner Timoleon Jimenez as leader of the drug-funded guerrilla group has dampened hopes the killing of the former commander, Alfonso Cano, could herald the beginning of the end of nearly five decades of war.

“I want to take this opportunity to tell the new number one of the FARC to reflect that politically they’re defeated. More than 96, 97 percent of the population reject the FARC,” Santos said in a speech late on Wednesday.

“Militarily they are increasingly weak. The way of the gun, the way of violence will not take them anywhere. He must think about this, or he will soon meet the fate of Alfonso Cano.”

The Colombian military raided a jungle hide-out in the mountainous south of the country and killed Cano on November 4.

The Santos government hailed it as the biggest blow yet to the rebels, and the death of the group’s main ideologue raised hopes of peace in Latin America’s No. 5 economy.

But the FARC vowed to fight on and named a hard-liner, widely known as Timochenko, as their new leader.

The 52-year-old former doctor was trained in Cuba and Russia, where he picked up his alias. Colombia’s security services see him as more uncompromising than other commanders the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia could have chosen.

While reeling from the loss of Cano, the FARC have made it clear they will not give up their war.

“There is no doubt they are at their lowest point,” said local analyst Rafael Nieto.

“They are not going to change their strategy. They are going to keep up the guerrilla war, using small units, pinprick operations, surprise hits on the military, and avoid direct confrontations. Obviously they are not going to return to major attacks on population centers.”

While the Andean nation has made major strides in improving security and attracted billions of dollars in foreign investment, rebels and criminal gangs still hold sway in some areas, mainly over drug production and transport zones.

Additional reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Editing by Daniel Wallis

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