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Colombia: Top guerrilla leader killed

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

Former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt was also one of his victims.

The former politician, who has just released a book about her kidnapping, got to know Briceno during her six years in FARC captivity. When informed of his death, Betancourt said: “Hopefully, this will be the end of a long night for Colombia and a long nightmare for me.”

The military operation should provide a huge boost to President Santos, a former defense minister who was elected on a pledge to keep military pressure on the FARC. In recent weeks, the FARC had pulled off five ambushes, killing 40 government troops and sparking concern that the rebels might be making a comeback.

Instead, the death of Briceno could cause the guerrilla army to unravel even further.

Fernando Araujo, a former FARC hostage who later served as foreign minister, said it could lead to a wave of desertions. It could also throw the remaining FARC leadership into crisis.

Its commanders are already spread-out and often incommunicado. Alfonso Cano, who replaced Marulanda as supreme leader, is said to be in hiding in the mountains of western Colombia while two other members of the secretariat are living in Venezuela, according to military officials in Bogota.

But even though the Colombian military is on a roll, analysts warn it will be extremely difficult to defeat the rebels, who earn millions from the illegal drug trade and remain a menace in many rural areas.

“Now is the time to open genuine negotiations and bring this long conflict to an end,” U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass) said in a statement. “It is time to end the killing.”
Neither side, however, has expressed much interest in a new round of peace talks.