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.