Wed, Sep 05, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Senior rebel killed in Colombia

NEGRO ACACIO Tomas Medina, wanted in the US on drug charges and in Colombia for murder, kidnapping and drug trafficking, was killed by army troops on Saturday

AFP , BOGOTA

Colombia's defense minister said on Monday that army troops killed a senior rebel figure wanted in the US on drug trafficking charges.

Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos said Tomas Medina, a commander in the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), was killed in clashes on Saturday.

Medina was considered a key figure overseeing FARC's vast drug trafficking network and Santos said his death represented a serious blow to rebel forces.

The announcement came after Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez agreed on Friday to mediate the release of 45 hostages held by the FARC, during a meeting with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe in Colombia.

The two leaders agreed to allow a representative of the FARC to meet with Chavez in Venezuela to discuss the exchange of 45 rebel hostages -- including French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt -- for 500 FARC members in government jails.

Since 2002, the US has sought the extradition of Medina, also known as Negro Acacio, on drug charges. He was also wanted in Colombia on 23 charges, including murder, kidnapping and drug trafficking.

He was accused of being the FARC contact for receipt of some 10,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles, purchased in Jordan by arms traffickers, thought to be working with Vladimiro Montesinos, Peruvian spymaster under former president Alberto Fujimori.

Meanwhile, FARC leader Raul Reyes confirmed to the Mexican newspaper La Jornada that talks on a swap of prisoners and hostages would go ahead.

"That is the way we have to go. That will be a historic meeting. It is a meeting that is needed for the good of the entire region, and particularly the Colombian people, who are victimized by the policies of the current government [under President Alvaro Uribe]," Reyes said.

Reyes said the rebels were very interested in meeting Chavez, but the head of the rebel band, Manuel Marulanda, also known as "Sure-shot," said the meeting still needed to be set up.

The hostage issue has brought together South America's oddest couple, the right-wing, pro-US Uribe and the leftist Chavez, who have squabbled about territorial incursions of troops and rebels, and have disagreed as well as on US policy in the region on drugs and security.

International attention has been focused on 45 hostages held by FARC, including French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt, held since 2002.

Uribe made defusing Colombia's civil war the cornerstone of his presidency, but has only managed to negotiate the demobilization of a right-wing paramilitary army.

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