Colombian army destroys huge FARC drug lab, seizes 4 tons of cocaine

Bogota, Mar 17 (EFE).- Army troops destroyed "the largest drug storage center" operated by the FARC guerrilla group in southwestern Colombia and seized four tons of cocaine bound for Central America and the United States, special counternarcotics brigade commander Col. Jorge Mora told Efe.

The anti-drug operation was conducted last Tuesday in a remote area outside Zanjal, a hamlet in Cauca province, Mora said.

Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, guerrillas attacked soldiers from the special brigade outside the complex, Mora told Efe by telephone.

"There was fighting that lasted about 15 minutes," Mora said, adding that the guerrillas fled and there were no casualties among the army troops involved in the operation.

The lab complex had generators, microwave ovens, fans, industrial blenders and seven electric pumps, Mora said.

The clandestine laboratory had the capacity to produce up to one ton of cocaine daily, the army officer said.

Soldiers seized two tons of cut coca leaf, half a ton of solid chemicals and 3,000 gallons (11,355 liters) of other chemicals used to produce cocaine.

The illegal drug complex financed the operations of six FARC fronts in Valle del Cauca, Cauca and NariƱo provinces, Mora said.

The FARC and the Colombian government are holding peace talks in Havana in an effort to end the nearly 50-year-old internal conflict in the South American nation.

The accord establishing a framework for the peace process was signed on Aug. 26, 2012, in Havana after six months of secret exploratory discussions on the communist-ruled island under the auspices of the Cuban and Norwegian governments.

The initial phase of the talks began on Nov. 19.

The most recent peace process with the rebels, during the 1998-2002 government of President Andres Pastrana, took place in a demilitarized area of southern Colombia - dubbed "Farclandia" - and collapsed amid mutual recriminations.

The FARC has battled a succession of Colombian governments since 1964. The insurgency swelled to nearly 20,000 fighters in the early 2000s, but now numbers around 8,500 combatants.

Colombia's armed forces, bolstered by billions of dollars of aid from the United States, have scored dramatic successes against the FARC in recent years, but the rebels remain capable of inflicting significant damage on the military and on vulnerable infrastructure.