At least 26 dead in Colombian weekend fighting

BOGOTA, (Reuters) – Colombian forces killed 12  leftist rebels yesterday in an attack on a unit assigned to  protect the nation’s top guerrilla leader, punctuating a bloody  weekend that left another 14 people dead around the country.

The rebels who died in the surprise raid were part of the  personal guard of Guillermo Saenz, known as Alfonso Cano, head  of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the defense  ministry said.

In separate battles over the weekend, officials said 10  soldiers, two police and two civilians were also killed as  troops tried to wrest control of areas of the country from the  outlawed rebel army, known by its Spanish initials FARC.

Local media reports have said Colombia’s army is closing in  on Cano. His death or capture would give political momentum to  President-elect Juan Manuel Santos, who is to be sworn in as  head of state next month.

While serving as defense minister before stepping down to  run for president, Santos directed key military strikes against  the FARC.

He easily defeated Green Party candidate Antanas Mockus in  a run-off last month and has pledged to continue the current  government’s economic and security policies, which have  attracted investment to this Andean country.

The surprise attack was carried out by Colombia’s air  force, army and police early yesterday morning in the mountainous  central province of Tolima. The remains of eight men and four  women from a guerrilla unit assigned to guard Cano were  recovered, according to a defense ministry statement.

One of the dead women appeared to be Magaly Grannobles,  known as Marleny Rondon, head of one of Cano’s “security  rings,” the statement said. She is accused by authorities of  carrying out more than 30 attacks against Colombia’s armed  forces and committing more than 70 murders.

Also over the weekend, 10 soldiers were killed in a battle  with the FARC in the eastern province of Arauca, near the  Venezuelan border, an army spokesman told Reuters.

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