BOGOTA – A corporal and two privates died when FARC guerrillas ambushed an army patrol in a remote area in Colombia’s Arauca province, which borders Venezuela, media reports said.
The ambush occurred outside Tame, where Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, rebels attacked the soldiers with gunfire and explosives.
Six soldiers were wounded in the attack, which was staged by the FARC’s Alfonso Castellanos column, Radio Caracol reported on its Web site.
FARC guerrillas also killed two mayoral candidates who were campaigning in Campamento, a city in the northwestern province of Antioquia.
The guerrilla group, meanwhile, called on Monday for a “civilized” end to Colombia’s armed conflict.
The FARC said it was still open to exchanging the soldiers it was holding captive for imprisoned guerrillas.
The government rejected the FARC’s proposal and called on the rebels to release all of their captives.
The FARC, Colombia’s oldest and largest leftist guerrilla group, was founded in 1964, has an estimated 8,000 fighters and operates across a large swath of this Andean nation.
The Colombian government has made fighting the FARC a top priority and has obtained billions in U.S. aid for counterinsurgency operations.
The FARC, whose leader is Alfonso Cano, has suffered a series of setbacks in recent years.
The FARC’s military chief, Jorge Briceño Suarez, known as “Mono Jojoy,” was killed in an airstrike on Sept. 23.
On July 2, 2008, the Colombian army rescued former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, U.S. military contractors Thomas Howes, Keith Stansell and Marc Gonsalves, and 11 other Colombian police officers and soldiers.
The FARC had been trying to trade the 15 captives, along with 25 other “exchangeables,” for hundreds of jailed guerrillas.
The rebels’ most valuable bargaining chip was Betancourt, a dual Colombian-French citizen the FARC seized in February 2002 whose plight became a cause celebre in Europe.
The guerrilla group is believed to still be holding some 700 hostages.
FARC founder Manuel Marulanda, who was known as “Sureshot,” died on March 26, 2008.
Three weeks earlier, Colombian forces staged a cross-border raid into Ecuador, killing FARC second-in-command Raul Reyes and setting off a regional diplomatic crisis.
Ivan Rios, a high-level FARC commander, was killed that same month by one of his own men, who cut off the guerrilla leader’s hand and presented it to army troops, along with identification documents, as proof that the rebel chief was dead.
A succession of governments have battled Colombia’s leftist insurgent groups since the mid-1960s.
The origin of Colombia’s civil strife dates back to 1948, when the assassination of popular politician Jorge Eliecer Gaitan sparked a 10-year-long civil war known as “La Violencia.”
About six years after that conflict ended with a power-sharing pact between Colombia’s two main parties, a government offensive against peasant self-defense groups led Marulanda, who was pursued by death squads during La Violencia, to form the FARC.
In 1999, then-President Andres Pastrana allowed the creation of a Switzerland-sized “neutral” zone in the jungles of southern Colombia for peace talks with the FARC.
After several years of fitful and ultimately fruitless negotiations, Pastrana ordered the armed forces to retake the region in early 2002. But while the arrangement lasted, the FARC enjoyed free rein within the zone.
The FARC is on both the U.S. and EU lists of terrorist groups. Drug trafficking, extortion and kidnapping-for-ransom are the FARC’s main means of financing its operations. EFE