Colombia Farc rebel leader says group is not weakened

Farc rebels (file image) Farc rebels attacked a military checkpoint shortly after their leader said they had not been weakened

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One of the leaders of Colombia's biggest rebel movement, the Farc, says it remains ready for battle.

The leader, known as Ivan Marquez, denied claims by the Colombian military that the guerrillas had been weakened.

In a video message, he defended the Farc's actions and rejected accusations that they were acts of terrorism.

Just hours after the message was uploaded, Farc rebels killed at least six soldiers at a military checkpoint in north-western Choco province.

The soldiers were manning a checkpoint on the road leading from the provincial capital, Quibdo, to Colombia's second largest city, Medellin.

Army General Hernan Giraldo said the soldiers were killed by explosive devices.

He said his men killed three of the rebels in the clashes.

'Not defeated'

In the Farc video, believed to have been recorded on 24 March, Luciano Marin Arango, better known as Ivan Marquez, said claims that the end of the guerrilla movement had come were wrong.

"There is an intense political and military confrontation and a growing mobilisation of the social sectors," he said sitting at a table in front of a large image of the late Farc leader Manuel Marulanda.

Ivan Marquez, a member of the Farc's secretariat, the group's ruling body, said the rebels were trying to "enlist the solidarity of the people of the world" in their struggle.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos had said last month that recent military strikes had weakened the guerrilla movement.

More than 60 rebels were killed in attacks in eastern Meta and Arauca province in March.

The attacks were part of a new strategy by the security forces aimed at eliminating the rebels' regional commanders and hitting their logistics and supplies.

President Santos had ordered the new strategy after the killing over the past two years of the rebels' top two commanders, Mono Jojoy and Alfonso Cano.

Middle ranks

The president said the military had to widen its list of targets to prevent middle-ranking rebels raising through the hierarchy and taking the places of their killed leaders.

"For an organisation like the Farc, the middle ranks, those who are just below the Secretariat, are the most important people," President Santos said.

"They are the ones making the decision on the ground, and these operations hit them at the very heart of their structure," Mr Santos told a security meeting in Chaparral, in central Tolima province in March.

Farc rebels have been fighting to overthrow the government since the 1960s.

Over the past decade they are thought to have lost about half their strength, with about 8,000 guerrillas remaining.

But they remain a powerful force in large areas of rural Colombia, thanks in part to money gained from the cocaine trade.

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