Latin America & Caribbean

Colombian forces kill 22 Farc rebels

Police and security forces inspect the bodies of suspected Farc rebels, Puerto Asis (19 Sep 2010)
Image caption Bodies of those killed were brought to the town of Puerto Asis

Colombian security forces say they have killed at least 22 Farc rebels in fighting near the Ecuadorean border.

Police commandos were dropped by helicopter after air force planes bombed a rebel camp in the jungle.

The fighting in the Putumayo region happened near the town of San Miguel, where eight policemen died in a rebel ambush earlier this month.

President Juan Manuel Santos said it was "the biggest blow in recent times" to the left-wing rebel group.

'No quarter'

He said the operation was a sign of how he would respond to the war strategy of the rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc).

The president succeeded Alvaro Uribe when he won a clear victory in a run-off election in June this year.

During his election campaign he had pledged to continue the tough security policies of his predecessor, who left office with high approval ratings after years of hard-line policies against the rebels.

Speaking after Sunday's raid in Putumayo, Mr Santos said he had given "clear orders" to the security forces to "continue giving these kind of blows without treaty or quarter".

He also thanked the government of Ecuador for supporting the operation, saying better co-operation was improving security along the frontier.

Farc rebels have stepped up their violent campaign since president Santos took office on 7 August.

Although a senior Farc leader has said the group is prepared to negotiate a settlement, more than 40 security personnel have been killed so far this month in a series of rebel attacks and ambushes.

Analysts say the raids may be intended to force the government into peace talks.

Image caption President Juan Manuel Santos says the offensive against the rebels will continue

But Mr Santos has said he will not negotiate with the rebels until they release all their hostages and stop attacks.

The Putumayo region is a traditional stronghold of the Farc, as well as a major cocaine-producing area.

Both the Farc and the smaller National Liberation Army (ELN) were severely weakened by the tough security policies put in place by Mr Uribe.

Colombia's relations with Ecuador were severely strained under President Uribe after the Colombian armed forces attacked a Farc camp inside Ecuadorean territory in 2008, killing the senior Farc commander, Raul Reyes.

But the two nations have since set up a joint commission to coordinate security along the border.

Colombian newspaper El Tiempo reported that after the attack on the policemen on 10 September, troops from both armies travelled to the ambush site and confirmed that the attack took place entirely within Colombian territory.

As Colombia planned and executed Sunday's reprisal, Ecuadorean troops mobilised along the shared border in an effort to stop rebels fleeing into Ecuador, El Tiempo reported.

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