Colombia's FARC rebels name new chief

AP News
Posted: Nov 15, 2011 2:59 PM
Colombia's FARC rebels name new chief

Colombia's main rebel group announced Tuesday that it has named a successor to its leader, who was killed in combat this month.

The ruling junta of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia designated 52-year-old Timoleon Jimenez as the new chief on Nov. 5, a day after Alfonso Cano was killed while trying to break out of a military cordon in southwestern Colombia.

The group known at the FARC made the announcement Tuesday via a sympathetic website, and it said the vote for the man better known by his nickname Timochenko was unanimous.

The U.S. government has offered a $5 million reward for Jimenez, and Colombia's government is offering another $2.6 million for his capture.

Jimenez, 52, is the nom de guerre of Rodrigo Londono, who was born in the village of Calarca in western Colombia. He is one of the least visible rebel commanders. One of his most recent appearances was in a May 2008 video confirming the death of FARC leader Manuel Marulanda.

He has been a member of the FARC's seven-man ruling secretariat since the 1980s, making him the longest-serving member, according to Carlos Lozano, an analyst for the Communist Party weekly Voz. He noted that the FARC has a tradition of taking seniority into account when making promotions.

Financed mostly by drug trafficking, the half-century-old FARC is comprised largely of peasants with few other opportunities in a country where land ownership is highly concentrated in the hands of a few. The group is believed to have about 9,000 fighters within a disciplined military hierarchy.

The rebels' leadership has suffered a series of blows beginning in March 2008, when the FARC's foreign minister, Raul Reyes, was killed in a bombing raid on a rebel camp across the border in Ecuador. That raid yielded authorities a treasure trove of information from computers and digital storage.

That same month, the FARC's revered co-founder, Manuel Marulanda, died in a mountain hideout of a heart attack. Cano, the rebels' chief ideologist, was named to succeed him.

Several other senior commanders were subsequently killed and rebel desertions, including of midlevel cadres, reached record levels.

And in July 2008, commandos posing as international aid workers rescued former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, three U.S. military contractors and 11 others in an elaborate and bloodless ruse.

Still, the FARC has been regrouping in recent months, and rural violence has been increasing.