BOGOTA – The second-in-charge of a guerrilla front active in south-central Colombia has turned himself in along with seven other combatants, military officials said.
An army communique said Thursday that alias “Ciro Pereza” or “Ciro Cañon” had been a member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, guerrilla group for the past 14 years and led a group of roughly 200 rebel fighters.
The rebel chief demobilized in a rural area outside Mapiripan, a hamlet in the south-central province of Meta.
Due to the number of men under his command, military officials said Ciro Pereza’s surrender is the most significant setback for the FARC since a military operation last month in which the group’s military leader, known as Jorge Briceño Suarez or “Mono Jojoy,” was killed.
Jojoy was slain on Sept. 22 in an operation against the FARC leader’s jungle camp in Meta.
“Ciro Pereza” was the second-in-command of the FARC’s 44th Front and had been in the guerrilla ranks since the age of 14, as had four of the other deserters.
The guerrillas turned in four rifles, ammunition clips for different types of firearms, 500 bullets of different calibers, communications gear and other items.
Army officials said the army was continuing its operations against the 44th Front and that it expects that pressure and low morale within that unit to bring about more desertions.
The demobilized FARC fighters will now enter a government program to help them re-enter civilian life, including the provision of psychological aid, education and financial support.
In recent years, the FARC’s numbers have fallen by more than half to roughly 8,000 fighters and the group has suffered a series of setbacks, including the dramatic rescue of its highest-profile hostages in 2008 and Jojoy’s death.
The guerrilla organization, 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. EFE