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Colombia's FARC rebels choose hardliner 'Timochenko' to lead

FARC's move to put Timoleon Jimenez, also known as 'Timochenko,' in charge could prove a major obstacle to Colombia's hopes for a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

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Timochenko is also likely to present a far more difficult target for the Colombian security forces then his predecessor Alfonso Cano. First of all, he is known to move freely in Venezuelan territory. This is an insurmountable obstacle for the Colombian government, as after the Colombian air force bombed a FARC camp in Ecuador in March 2008, killing Secretariat member Luis Edgar Devia Silva, alias "Raul Reyes," President Hugo Chavez stated that any such aggression in Venezuelan territory would lead to war.

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The files seized from the computers of Raul Reyes show that Timochenko has strong links to elements in the Chavez regime, both political and military. The files suggest that he provided training for Chavista irregulars. There are also messages by Timochenko talking about elements of the Venezuelan Armed Forces and intelligence helping with the movement of personnel, money, and drugs. There is also mention the Venezuelan security forces providing ammunition, weapons, and medical supplies. While the word "cocaine" never appears in the Reyes files, with the rebels preferring to use non-existent words like "maracachafas," the meaning is clear. Indeed, Timochenko, along with his second-in-command of the Magdalena Medio Bloc, Felix Antonio Muñoz Lascarro, alias "Pastor Alape," are wanted by the US on drug trafficking charges. The US has placed a $5 million bounty on the head of Timochenko, making him one of the US's most wanted.

Timochenko has also been the FARC's head of intelligence and counterintelligence, and is known to be cautious, bordering on paranoid. He prefers to stay on the move, seldom spending more than one night in the same place, and not using guerrilla camps, instead sleeping in peasant huts or in small lean-to's built in the jungle. Intelligence sources told InSight Crime that Timochenko spends his time moving between the Colombian department of Norte De Santander and the Venezuelan state of Zulia, which sits across the border. There have recently been reports of Timochenko up in the Serrania de Perija, a mountain range further to the north which forms the frontier between Colombia and Venezuela.

Timochenko has up to 250 fighters of the Magdalena Medio Bloc as his personal bodyguard, and is known to have a web of militiamen and informants in Norte De Santander, who give him advance warning of security force movements. There is also evidence that Timochenko handles highly placed spies within the security forces and government institutions. He is credited with warning the Secretariat in 1990 of the imminent attack on the FARC's home base of Casa Verde in the department of Meta, allowing Manuel Marulanda, Alfonso Cano, and other rebel leaders to escape the army trap to capture and kill them.

There is unlikely to be any marked change in guerrilla strategy of tactics under Timochenko. To be sure, the FARC communiqué stated that with his election, "The continuity of the Strategic Plan for the taking of power by the people is guaranteed."

The Colombian interior minister, German Vargas Lleras, stated that Timochenko had now become the government's priority target. Having seen Alfonso Cano killed just three years after assuming the leadership of the FARC, Timochenko will need all of his military skills, intelligence-gathering capabilities, and paranoia to stay alive and keep the FARC together.

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