Colombia rebel head narrowly eludes capture: Santos

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 03, 2011 9:49 PM
Colombia rebel head narrowly eludes capture: Santos

By Luis Jaime Acosta

BOGOTA (Reuters) - The leader of Colombia's largest guerrilla group narrowly eluded capture, fleeing hours before the army seized his jungle hideout, President Juan Manuel Santos said on Sunday.

Alfonso Cano, leader since 2008 of the Revolutionary Armed Force of Colombia (FARC), escaped at most 12 hours before troops arrived at the camp on Thursday on the border of the southwestern districts of Huila and Cauca, he said.

"We've verified that the night before Alfonso Cano slept at that camp," said the president after his return from an on-site inspection of the rugged mountain region.

The military bombed the camp and sent in troops to seize Cano, who barely escaped capture for the third time, he added.

TV footage showed the rudimentary lodging as consisting of black tarps slung between trees amid dense jungle foliage.

Santos said the FARC leaders had lost what they considered their safe sanctuaries, where they could move around without being killed or captured by the armed forces.

"We will keep pursuing him because we got him out of his traditional operation areas," said Santos. He added that his orders were to "intensify" the pursuit of FARC leaders.

Santos added government forces had in recent months killed rebels close to Cano, including his security heads.

Cano, born Guillermo Leon Saenz, is a bespectacled former middle-class Bogota youth who rose to the FARC's command after the rebel group's leader and founder, Manuel "Sureshot" Marulanda died in 2008 of a heart attack.

FARC second-in-command Raul Reyes was killed in a bombing raid on his camp the same year inside Ecuador, when Santos was defense minister.

Mono Jojoy, the commander of the FARC's military wing, was killed in a bombing raid and ground assault on his camp last September, a month after Santos took office as president.

(Writing by Walker Simon; editing by Todd Eastham)