Colombian government forces have killed the top military chief of the leftist FARC rebel group in what new President Juan Manuel Santos called the most “resounding blow” ever against the guerrilla army.
Jorge Briceño, better known as “Mono Jojoy” was killed along with another 20 guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. Government forces conducted a bombing raid Wednesday on his camp in an area known as La Macarena in southern Colombia.
“The symbol of terror in Colombia has fallen,” Mr. Santos said from New York, where he was attending the United Nations General Assembly. He added that 30 planes and 27 helicopters participated in the operation Wednesday. Jojoy’s body was identified on Thursday.
“This is historic news for our country,” said Santos, who took power last month. “This is our welcome to the FARC.”
The United States, which has provided some $6 billion in mostly military aid to Colombia, had offered a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to Jojoy’s arrest or conviction. Santos is scheduled to meet with President Obama on Friday.
'Heart of Jojoy's lair'
Defense Minister Rodrigo Rivera said five soldiers were wounded in the operation which struck at the “heart of Jojoy’s lair.” He said the rebel camp was nearly 1,000-ft. long and included escape tunnels and a concrete building where Jojoy hid out.
The military located the site with information from FARC deserters. "The FARC are falling apart from within,” Mr. Rivera said. “A message to the members of the FARC: Turn yourselves in, we will respect your lives.”
Political analyst Ariel Avila calls Jojoy’s death “devastating” for the FARC.
“Jojoy was a living legend in the FARC, and they respected him highly," says Mr. Avila. "This is a blow to the stricture and culture of the guerrillas.”
Jojoy’s Eastern Bloc was the strongest FARC unit with an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 fighters.
Mr. Avila says there is no strong figure in line to replace Jojoy and predicts there would be a wave of demobilizations.
Second rebel leader killed this week
The blow against the FARC comes a few days after another guerrilla leader, Sixto Cabana, was shot dead along with 27 other rebels along the southern border with Ecuador. The FARC rebels have been fighting the Colombian authorities since the mid-1960s.
The rebels have lost several top commanders in the past several years, under a sustained campaign against them that pushed them back to remote jungles and mountains.
FARC founder, Manuel Marulanda, died of natural causes in 2008, and the same year, the organization’s top “foreign minister” was killed in bomb raid on his camp in Ecuador, while another was murdered by his own bodyguard.
Still, Avila says that a rebel surrender is not imminent. “This is a hard, hard blow," he says, "but there’s a long way to go before they capitulate.”