Army Offensive Ends in Disaster

News from Colombia | on: Sunday, 4 May 2008

An operation by the Colombian Army against the presumed headquarters of a senior Colombian guerrilla commander has ended in embarrassment after numerous soldiers were killed in combat with the rebels and the army was forced to pull out of the area near the Venezuelan border. Both Colombian and Spanish media have reported that at least six soldiers have been killed in the area of Tibu, in Norte de Santander department, though it is believed that the number may actually be more than 20 after reports from local people suggested that the guerrillas repeatedly ambushed the military unit involved.

The operation, carried out by troops of the 30th Brigade of the Colombian Army, was aimed at reaching a camp where Commander Ivan Marquez, a member of the ruling Secretariat of the leftwing FARC guerrilla group, is believed to be based. However, the mountainous area, along the remote border with Venezuela, has long been a guerrilla stronghold and it is thought that the rebels had pre-prepared ambushes that the advancing troops fell into.

Another ongoing military operation in southern municipalities of the department of Tolima is believed to be targeting another FARC Secretariat member, Commander Alfonso Cano, who leads the rebel group's political wing, the Bolivarian Movement. Although the military has refused to allow journalists or human rights investigators into the region, details have emerged of severe abuses of human rights committed by troops against civilians whom they suspect of supporting the guerrillas. No details of the scale of the fighting have yet filtered out although thousands of troops have been sent into the area.

The location of the FARC's most senior commanders, Manuel Marulanda Velez the 77-year-old founder of the group, and Jorge Briceno, the FARC's military leader, are unknown though they are both thought to be based in one of the group's strongholds in eastern Colombia.

Other fighting between the Army and FARC in recent days has seen soldiers killed in the departments of Arauca, Caldas, Cauca and Valle departments.

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