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Colombian army kills FARC commander

The Americas Post - It wasn't microphones pointing at Alfonso Cano this week.

In another setback for Latin America’s oldest guerrilla army, FARC rebel leader Guillermo Leon Saenz was killed in Colombia on Friday.

According to Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon, Saenz, who was better known by his battle moniker Alfonso Cano, was tracked down in the southern department of Cauca.  He had already been on the run for months with a $5 million bounty on his head.

“This is the biggest blow the organization has seen in its history,” President Juan Manuel Santos announced in Cartagena.  He also called on the remaining members of FARC  to give up the fight. “If you don’t…you will end up in jail or in a grave”, he said.

Pinzón said the military attacked Cano’s rural camp from the air at about 8:30 am. Friday before landing troops in the area.  Once on the ground, soldiers found Cano’s trail glasses and wallet before surrounding him and a group of his closest followers.  In the course of the battle his security chief was taken prisoner and Cano’s “sentimental partner” was killed, Pinzón said.

Authorities showed a picture of Cano’s body, uncharacteristically clean-shaven, recovered with seven computers, some 30 memory sticks and more than $107,000 in cash.

This was latest in a series of setbacks for the FARC.  Their second-in-command, Raul Reyes, was killed in 2008 in a cross-border raid on his base in Ecuador, while their top commander, Jorge Briceño, died in combat in September 2010.

Cano’s death comes amid fears that the FARC was making a comeback.

Rebel attacks have been rising for the last three years, after they dispersed into smaller, more mobile groups, analysts said.

According to Corporación Nuevo Arco Iris, a think-tank that studies Colombia’s civil conflict, there were 1,115 FARC attacks in the first half of 2011 – up 10 percent over last year.

President Juan Manuel Santos replaced the entire military high command earlier and named Pinzon minister of defense in August.  Last month, however, the FARC killed 20 soldiers in two days before municipal elections.

Analysts warned that Cano’s death could provoke a fresh round of violence as the group attempts to prove it’s a force to be reckoned with. Founded in 1964 with a Marxist ideology, the FARC now depends on drug trafficking, kidnapping and extortion for financing.  According to some estimates, the group is down to under 9,000 members, from approximately 17,000 in 2002.

Pinzón said that Cano had been a guerrilla for over 33 years and that his death proves that no rebel is safe from the Colombian army.

“Today, the armed forces and the national police have destroyed a myth,” he said.