Connect to share and comment

Colombia: Top guerrilla leader killed

Leader's death a 'devastating blow' to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

Manuel Marulanda and Jorge Briceno
In a picture released by Colombian TV network Canal RCN, Manuel Marulanda (right), top leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia guerrilla movement, stands next to FARC number two Jorge Briceno, also known as El Mono Jojoy, who was killed Sept. 22 the Colombian military. (AFP/Getty Images)

BOGOTA, Colombia — In a major victory for Colombia’s new government, military officials announced Thursday that Jorge Briceno, the No. 2 leader of the country’s largest guerrilla group, has been killed.

Better known as Mono Jojoy, Briceno, 57, was responsible for hundreds of kidnappings and a series of devastating attacks pulled off by the of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. During the bloodiest years of the war, Briceno was for average Colombians the most feared of the FARC comandantes.

“Mono Jojoy was a symbol of terror,” President Juan Manuel Santos, who was sworn-in last month, said Thursday. He called Briceno’s death “the most devastating blow against the FARC in the history of the rebel organization,” which has been fighting since the 1960s.

Defense Minister Rodrigo Rivera said Colombian air force planes on Wednesday dropped about 50 bombs on Briceno´s immense jungle camp, which was outfitted with concrete bunkers and escape tunnels. Later, Colombian special forces engaged in fierce combat with the rebels, killing at least 20 more FARC fighters.

“This is a day of joy and glory for all of Colombia,” Rivera told a Bogota news conference.

The U.S.-backed Colombian army has over the past eight years delivered a series of blows to the FARC, which has seen its numbers drop from 17,000 foot soldiers to about 8,000.

Colombian troops had been pursuing Briceno for years but, with a better grasp of the jungle, he always managed to escape. Rivera said informants within Briceno´s inner circle provided vital information about his location, which opened the door to Wednesday’s raid.

His death is yet another calamity for the FARC’s seven-man ruling secretariat, which has now lost four members in the past two years.

In March 2008, FARC founder and supreme commander Manuel Marulanda died of a heart attack at age 78. That same month FARC spokesman Raul Reyes was killed in a military bombardment and Ivan Rios, who led rebel units in western Colombia, was executed by one of his bodyguards.

But analysts said the loss of Briceno could have an even bigger impact.

For starters, he was one of the FARC’s longest serving members. Briceno´s mother cooked for a top FARC commander in the 1960s, thus he grew up in the rebel army. Briceno was close to FARC leader Marulanda and was eventually named commander of the group’s Eastern bloc, which fielded thousands of fighters.

He was also a cunning military strategist. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Briceno planned a string of attacks on poorly defended southern towns and military bases in which the guerrillas killed and captured hundreds of government troops.

“Mono Jojoy’s death will demoralize the FARC due to his stature as a warrior and the respect from the troops that he commanded,” said Alan Jara, a former state governor who was held hostage by the FARC for nearly eight years.

“He’s irreplaceable,” added Bogota political analyst Armando Borrero.

Briceno was also a driving force behind the FARC’s decision to kidnap Colombian politicians in an effort to swap them for imprisoned guerrillas. In 2001, Briceno was filmed inspecting scores of hostages who were penned up in a jungle concentration camps surrounded by barbed wire.

Referring to the way the burly, mustachioed Briceno lorded over his prisoners, Keith Stansell, one of three U.S. military contractors kidnapped by the FARC, referred to him sarcastically as “the great and magnificent Mono Jojoy.”