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Last Updated: Saturday, 1 March 2008, 16:41 GMT
Top Farc leader killed by troops
Senior Farc commander Raul Reyes, file picture
Reyes was Farc's first secretariat member to be killed in combat
A top commander of Colombia's left-wing guerrillas the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) has been killed in combat, the government says.

Colombia's Defence Minister described the death of Raul Reyes as the "biggest blow so far" to Farc.

Reyes, 59, also known as Luis Edgar Devia, is the first member of Farc's ruling secretariat to be killed in combat in the group's 44-year history.

He died with 16 other rebels during an attack near the Ecuadorian border.

Reyes was killed in an air raid followed by a ground operation, Defence Minister Juan Manuel Santos said on Saturday.

The rebels had been in a camp 1.8km (1 mile) on the Ecuadorian side of the border across from the province of Putumayo when the attack was called in, Mr Santos said.

Aura of invincibility

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe had telephoned Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa to discuss the operation.

"The Colombian Air Force proceeded to attack the camp from the Colombian side (of the border)," he said.

Colombia map

"Once the camp was bombarded, Colombian forces were ordered in to secure the area and neutralize the enemy."

The BBC's Jeremy McDermott, in Medellin, says the military defeat of the Farc has been a corner-stone of President Uribe's administration since he came to power in 2002.

The killing of such a leading figure within Farc's secretariat, whose members are renowned for dying of natural causes, means the group's aura of invincibility has evaporated, our correspondent adds.

As well as being on Farc's seven-member secretariat, Reyes acted as the group's international spokesman and had led Farc's negotiating team during the failed three-year peace process with the previous government of Andres Pastrana.

He had joined the rebel group from the Communist party in the 1970s.

Hostage releases

With the ageing of Farc's leader, Manuel "Sureshot" Marulanda, Reyes had frequently been mentioned as a potential successor.

Farc rebels on military practice in southern Colombia (file pic)
Farc has been involved in conflict in Colombia for four decades

His death comes as Mr Uribe was coming under pressure to make concessions to the rebels after Farc released four hostages earlier this week, our correspondent says.

Despite the releases, which were brokered by Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, scores of hostages - including the French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt - are still being held by the rebel group.

Colombia's government has received billions of dollars in aid to fight the guerrillas from the US administration, which along with the EU, views Farc as a terrorist organisation.

While Colombian troops have recently retaken control of areas previously held by rebel groups, Farc retains a strong hold over Colombia's more remote regions.

Footage of Raul Reyes in the jungle

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