Colombia's FARC guerrillas said Thursday that they shot down an air force plane earlier this week during clashes in the southwestern province of Cauca.
"The latest combat, executed yesterday (Wednesday) at 3:30 p.m., in the Paleton district of the municipality of Jambalo, resulted in the downing of a Super Tucano plane by our anti-aircraft fire and the deaths of its two occupants," the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, said in a statement.
The rebels said they handed over the body of one of the dead crewmen to the International Red Cross, which recovered the other body independently.
The FARC's claim contrasts with comments Thursday from Colombia's air force chief, Gen. Tito Saul Pinilla, who said there was "no indication the airplane was shot down" and described the incident as a "air accident that must be investigated."
"Since July 3 we have besieged the Army and the Public Force who cowardly shield themselves in the urban core of the municipality of Jambalo," the FARC said.
The crash of the Super Tucano, a Brazilian-made warplane, was not a case of "technical or human failure," the insurgents said, adding that rebel fighters recovered a .50 caliber machine gun and other military gear from the plane.
The FARC, which has battled a succession of Colombian governments since the mid-1960s, said the country's problems can be surmounted "in a civilized and peaceful way through dialogue."
The guerrillas compared their position with the message Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos delivered Wednesday during a visit to Cauca, where he flatly rejected a plea from leaders of the province's indigenous majority to demilitarize the area.
Cauca's Indian communities have proclaimed their neutrality in the conflict and asked both the rebels and government forces to stay off their lands. EFE