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Death of Colombian rebel leader raises little hope of peace deal

November 5, 2011 | 11:16 am

Colombia
REPORTING FROM BOGOTA, COLOMBIA -- Although Colombia's armed forces delivered a serious blow to the country's largest rebel force with the killing of its leader, analysts Saturday held out little hope for a peace initiative by the decimated but still potent leftist insurgents.

The 63-year-old rebel leader, who went by the alias Alfonso Cano, was killed in a military operation Friday in southwestern Colombia. At a news conference Saturday, President Juan Manuel Santos called on the rebels to lay down their arms.

"Violence is not the way," Santos said. "Demobilize, because as we have said many times, you will end up in a grave or in jail."

A decade ago, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, had up to 20,000 fighters and controlled one-third of the country's land. But under Santos' predecessor, the hard-line Alvaro Uribe, the Colombian military knocked the FARC on its heels with the help of $7.6 billion in mainly military aid from the U.S. under Plan Colombia.

Analysts now estimate that the rebel forces who have battled the government for four decades now number 8,000 or fewer.

Still, analyst Alfredo Rangel said he sees little chance of any peace overtures from the FARC, which Cano had headed since May 2008 when the group's founder, Manuel Marulanda, died of apparent natural causes.

"What his death is more likely to bring is an upsurge in violent incidents against the armed forces, infrastructure and Colombian society generally," said Rangel, of the Security and Democracy Center think tank in Bogota, the capital. "Their first order of business will be to avenge the death of their leader."

National University of Colombia political scientist Alejo Vargas agreed, saying he doubts there will be any short-term changes in the FARC's policy of belligerence toward the government.

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-- Chris Kraul

Photo: Soldiers who took part in the operation that killed FARC leader Alfonso Cano listen to a radio at the military base in Popayan, Colombia, on Saturday. Credit: Fernando Vergara/Associated Press

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