Bogotá, Colombia – A military operation in Colombia's Norte de Santander province earlier this week killed Danilo García, commander of the FARC's 33rd Front and one of the closest friends of the guerrilla group's top leader.
Garcia, whose real name was Jose Epimenio Molina, was a member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, for 37 years, the defense minister said.
The guerrilla commander was killed in an operation staged in Hacari by the National Police, army and air force against a camp belonging to the Bari mobile company of the FARC's 33rd Front.
The attack took place on Tuesday and the security forces have recovered three bodies, including that of Garcia, one of the closest friends of FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri, said Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon.
Intelligence reports and the number of weapons recovered at the camp indicate that the bodies of 15 guerrillas may have been buried in the bombing, the defense minister said.
"We attacked a FARC column that had been staging attacks in this part of the country," Pinzón said, adding that the guerrillas recently murdered a police lieutenant and a patrolman in the town of Sardinata.
Garcia was a friend and "right-hand man" of Londoño's, and he provided support to the security teams that guard the FARC leadership, Pinzón said.
The rebel commander worked with drug traffickers to smuggled cocaine through the area, the defense minister said.
The attack comes as the Colombian government and the FARC announced that they will hold peace talks in October.
Mauricio Jaramillo, a spokesman and top leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, told reporters in Havana that the other two will be Iván Marquez, a participant in past peace talks and a member of the FARC's six-person ruling secretariat, and José Santrich, a second-tier leader.
More negotiators will be announced later, Jaramillo said.
Dressed in civilian clothing, Jaramillo and five other FARC members fielded questions for about an hour at a convention hall in the Cuban capital.
They said the talks will begin Oct. 8 in Oslo, and they want one of their negotiators to be Ricardo Palmera, alias "Simon Trinidad," a high-ranking FARC member and former peace negotiator who was extradited to the United States in 2005 and subsequently sentenced to 60 years on hostage-taking conspiracy charges.
Asked whether the FARC is seeking Palmera's release or the rebels envision him participating by videoconference, Andres Paris, another spokesman, responded that Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos would be learning of their request from Thursday's announcement and they would await a response from his government.
"You (the media) will be the bearers of this news, that the FARC has decided as a symbol of the nation and of dignity to have Simon at the negotiating table," Paris said.
The Colombian government named its five delegates to the peace talks on Wednesday.
Santos and FARC representatives announced earlier this week that they had agreed to hold talks on ending the half-century of bloody conflict in the South American nation.
The guerrillas said a possible cease-fire will be one of the first items on the agenda when the two sides sit down in Oslo, but did not specify what their position would be.
"It is tough to get into hypotheticals ... what is certain is that we are at war," spokesman Marco León Calarca said.
Earlier the guerrillas played a roughly edited video in which FARC chief Timoleon Jiménez, known by the nom de guerre "Timochenko," denied that the rebels have been weakened by defections and the deaths of several top leaders in recent years.
"We have never been stronger or more united," Jiménez said. "They are completely mistaken, those who try to see weakness in our tireless efforts for peace."
The Norwegian, Venezuelan and Chilean ambassadors to Cuba were also present at the convention hall representing their countries, which along with Cuba are facilitating the peace talks.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press and Efe.