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Colombia rebel founder dead
A Farc secretariat member confirms Marulanda’s death on TV. (AFP)

Bogota, May 25 (Reuters): Manuel Marulanda, the founder and top commander of Colombia’s main left-wing guerrilla army, has died of a heart attack after more than four decades fighting the state, his rebel group said.

Colombia’s military said on Saturday that intelligence sources showed Marulanda died in March, and the news was confirmed by rebel commander Timoleon Jimenez in a video played on Venezuelan-based television channel Telesur today.

“Our maximum leader, Manuel Marulanda Velez, died of a heart attack on March 26... in the arms of his companion,” Jimenez said, dressed in combat fatigues and standing before a Colombian flag in an unknown location.

Born into a peasant family, Marulanda rose from a humble businessman who once sold candy to lead the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or Farc, as it evolved from a small peasant into Latin America’s largest and longest-running insurgency.

Marulanda was nicknamed “Sureshot” and held firm control over the guerrilla group even as it suffered a series of military reverses in recent years.

The Farc said Alonso Cano, a member of its seven-man leadership, would would replace Marulanda as head of the group.

Analysts said Marulanda’s death could fuel more desertions and divisions inside the Farc.

President Alvaro Uribe’s US-backed security campaign already has the Farc on the retreat. Several top commanders were killed over the last year and a female commander become the latest high-ranking deserter earlier this month saying the rebel force was “cracking”.

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