Bogota – Five FARC guerrillas, including a rebel commander who allegedly served as a liaison with Mexican drug cartels, were killed in a joint armed forces operation in Colombia's southwest, Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon said.
The go-between, identified as the commander of the 30th Front of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, Jorge Netfali Umenza Velasco, also was accused of setting up false checkpoints on the highway between Cali - Colombia's third city - and the Pacific port of Buenaventura and of multiple homicides.
Navy, air force, army and National Police personnel took part in the operation, in which four other guerrillas were wounded and captured.
The operation dealt a "decisive blow to the FARC's 'western bloc,'" Pinzon told reporters Thursday.
Umenza Velasco was "a drug-trafficking chief, financier, a man responsible for multiple terrorist actions, of multiple crimes and of drug smuggling, especially to Central America," the minister said.
The slain rebel had belonged to the FARC for nearly 40 years and had participated in 2002 in the kidnapping of 12 regional lawmakers from Valle del Cauca province, 11 of whom died in captivity, and in the abduction of a dozen workers at a hydroelectric plant and six reporters from that region of southwestern Colombia.
He also was allegedly involved in the killings of 18 marines in that region, as well as of detonating several car bombs and serving as a link with Mexican drug cartels.
Umenza Velasco was the subject of arrest warrants for "terrorism, aggravated homicide, rebellion and kidnapping" and an Interpol Red Notice (the closest instrument to an international arrest warrant).
The guerrilla chief's death is a "blow to the FARC's backbone, a big blow to the FARC's finances," Pinzon said.
The military bombardment was carried out Thursday morning near the Yurumangui River in a rural area outside Buenaventura, Colombia's main Pacific port.
Authorities had been offering a $900,000 reward for information leading to the capture of Umenza Velasco, who had been wanted for extradition by the United States,
President Juan Manuel Santos also hailed the success of the operation, saying Umenza Velasco was "an emblematic figure for the FARC."
Colombian authorities also accused the slain guerrilla of having bartered drugs for weapons with international criminal organizations.