Colombian rebels FARC persist in armed struggle, even after leader’s death

Colombia Rebel Leader

Soldiers that took part in the operation that lead to the death of Alfonso Cano, 63, the top leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FA

Colombia Rebel Leader

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos greets journalists at a military base where he spoke to and shook hands with soldiers who took part in the op

Colombia Rebel Leader

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos, right, and Colombia's Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzo, left, shake hands with soldiers that took part in

Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Latin America's largest armed anti-government group, have continuously persisted in their armed struggle after the death of their leader, Alfonso Cano, dealt the group their biggest blow yet in the nearly five-decade-old war.

FARC also rejected a plea by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santo to demobilise, in a statement on Saturday on Anncol news website, which often carries its statements.

The 63-year-old rebel leader, Alfonso Cano, was killed Friday in a military operation in southwestern Colombia. At a news conference Saturday, President Juan Manuel Santos called on the rebels to lay down their arms.

"Violence is not the way," Santos said. "Demobilize, because as we have said many times, you will end up in a grave or in jail."

Cano, whose real name was Guillermo Leon Saenz, was killed after a three-year military operation targeting him. His principal base of operations had long been thought to be to the east, in the wild Delicias Canyon area of Tolima state, but Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon said intelligence last month located him farther west.

A few hours before the announcement of Cano's death, the Defense Ministry said that several members of Cano's security detail had been killed or captured and that seven laptop computers and other equipment had been recovered.

Cano was considered the FARC's ideologue during much of his 33 years in the rebel ranks.

FARC, a Marxist-inspired group that has financed itself from the proceeds of its cocaine trade and abductions, has been able to carry out deadly attacks on Colombia’s security forces. In the space of a few days last month, one attack attributed to the group killed 10 soldiers in the province of Nariño and another killed 10 soldiers near the border with Venezuela.

“The military forces can take a deep breath,” said Ariel Ávila, a conflict analyst with the Bogotá research group Arco Iris. “But this isn’t the end of the guerrillas. They still have some time left.”

A decade ago, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, had up to 20,000 fighters and controlled one-third of the country's land. But under Santos' predecessor, the hard-line Alvaro Uribe, the Colombian military knocked the FARC on its heels with the help of $7.6 billion in mainly military aid from the U.S. under Plan Colombia.

Analysts estimate that the rebel forces who have battled the government for four decades now number 8,000 or fewer.