BOGOTA – At least 36 Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, guerrillas died Monday in an operation staged by the security forces, officials said.
The operation marked the second big blow suffered in less than a week by the FARC, which lost 33 fighters in combat last Wednesday.
“Congratulations to the security forces. Hard blow to the FARC in Vistahermosa, Meta: 36 guerrillas neutralized,” President Juan Manuel Santos said in a Twitter posting.
The military operation targeted guerrillas in a rural area between the cities of Vistahermosa and La Macarena.
The FARC is expected to release 10 police officers being held hostage in Meta, whose capital is Villavicencio, next week.
“This morning at around 3:30 a.m. an operation was launched here in Meta, in the city of Vistahermosa, in El Silencio district,” Santos said.
“Operation Sword and Honor” took place on the boundary between Vistahermosa and La Macarena.
The latest FARC losses come on the heels of “the operation that was carried out last week in Arauca,” an oil-producing province on the border with Venezuela where 33 rebels were killed by the armed forces, Santos said.
Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon is heading to the area to help coordinate the military operation, defense officials said.
The FARC’s 27th and 43rd fronts operate in the area, but officials have not identified the unit that the dead guerrillas belonged to.
“The armed forces are continuing their offensive and are not going to stop,” Santos said, adding that a FARC 53rd Front ideologist was among several rebels captured over the weekend in Meta.
“These people were once again trying to see how they could reach Cundinamarca,” the province where Bogota is located, Santos said.
The six captured guerrillas were among 42 people arrested in the past 24 hours in Meta, the president said.
The FARC, Colombia’s oldest and largest leftist guerrilla group, was founded in 1964, has an estimated 8,000 fighters and operates across a large swath of this Andean nation.
The Colombian government has made fighting the FARC a top priority and has obtained billions in U.S. aid for counterinsurgency operations.
The FARC has suffered a series of setbacks in recent years at the hands of the Colombian security forces.
Alfonso Cano, the FARC’s top leader, was killed on Nov. 4 in a military and police operation that the government hailed as the biggest blow to the FARC in its nearly 50-year history.
Cano, a 63-year-old intellectual who had entered the ranks of the FARC 30 years ago, was killed in in a remote area of the southwestern province of Cauca a few hours after fleeing a bombardment.
The FARC also suffered a series of blows in 2008, with the biggest coming in July of that year, when the Colombian army rescued a group of high-profile rebel-held captives: former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, U.S. military contractors Thomas Howes, Keith Stansell and Marc Gonsalves, and 11 other Colombian police officers and soldiers.
The FARC is on both the U.S. and EU lists of terrorist groups. Drug trafficking, extortion and kidnapping-for-ransom are the FARC’s main means of financing its operations. EFE