At least 18 leftist rebels and soldiers were killed in the past week in southwestern Colombia clashes as Latin America’s oldest guerrilla conflict continues to rage, a military official said Saturday.
Thirteen members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which has been battling the government in Bogota for 45 years, and five soldiers were killed in the fighting, the official told AFP.
The toll could not immediately be confirmed by an independent source.
The military operation, which unfolded in a mountainous region of Cauca department, was launched 10 days ago to “neutralize” guerilla activity and “halt drug trafficking” in this area close to Cali city, the official added.
The specific FARC unit that came under attack “has dedicated itself for years to committing crimes against civilians and trafficking cocaine in a region bordering the Cauca and Valle departments,” according to the official.
The source spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.
Cali, capital city of the Valle department, also headquarters the third division of the Colombian army, which conducts anti-guerrilla operations in the region.
The army accuses the FARC, the oldest and largest Latin American guerilla group, of harassing several villages in recent months, including Corinto, Caloto and Toribio in Cauca department.
Military leaders have warned that operations were ongoing around Corinto and other nearby areas.
The jungle-based group, formed in 1964, still holds 22 police officers and soldiers as hostages and wants to exchange some for jailed FARC rebels.
Some 6,000 to 10,000 guerillas are still members of the FARC, sources say. (AFP)