Danilo Garcia, commander of the FARC's 33rd Front and one of the closest friends of the guerrilla group's top leader, died in a military operation in Colombia's Norte de Santander province, Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon said.

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, Pinzon said.

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," Pinzon 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, Pinzon said.

The rebel commander worked with drug traffickers to smuggled cocaine through the area, the defense minister said.

President Juan Manuel Santos's administration and the FARC plan to hold talks to lay out the framework for a peace dialogue.

FARC representatives said in Havana on Thursday that the first meeting with government negotiators would take place on Oct. 8 in Oslo.

The Cuban capital will be the main venue for the negotiations after the talks start in Norway.

The FARC and the security forces have continued fighting despite the steps being taken toward a dialogue to end Colombia's 50-year-old armed conflict.

Santos said military operations targeting the FARC and other illegal armed groups would continue.

The FARC, Colombia's oldest and largest leftist guerrilla group, was founded in 1964 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 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