United Stated President Barack Obama on Friday praised Colombia’s security forces in the wake of the death of a top rebel leader, saying he hopes their actions lead to more stability in the embattled country.
“Yesterday was a big day for the people of Colombia and those who are seeking peace in the region,” Obama said as he met with Colombian President Jan Manuel Santos inbetween U.N. meetings here.
On Thursday, officials announced that rebel leader Jorge Briceno had been killed in a two-day bombardment of his jungle military camp. Nicknamed “Mono Jojoy,” Briceno was field marshal and second in command of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which has been battling the Bogota government for a half-century.
Colombian officials hailed it as a major blow against an already reeling insurgency.
Obama lauded Colombia’s U.S.-backed security forces for “outstanding work.”
“The people of Colombia have been plagued by this terrorist insurgency for a very long time,” he said. “We now have the chance to see continued stability for Colombia in the region.”
Santos, 58, a U.S.-trained economist, was sworn in last month, replacing Alvaro Uribe, a longtime U.S. ally. Obama said Santos has already “shown remarkable leadership” and is off to “a great start.”
The scion of one of Colombia’s leading political families, Santos took office promising to cement military gains but also remain open to dialogue with FARC leaders in hopes of finally ending the Western Hemisphere’s last remaining armed conflict. Under Uribe, rebel forces were rolled back, and kidnappings and bombings were sharply reduced.
As he met with Obama, Santos told reporters, “Now that the security problem is more or less solved, we can now turn to a more progressive agenda — social development, the prosperity of our people, climate change.”
Educated at the University of Kansas, Santos often boasts about the exploits of the Jayhawks basketball team, Obama said. This spring, in the NCAA playoffs, Obama noted, “I bet on them winning it all and they lost. He’s already apologized to me for that.”
(Ben Feller / Associated Press)