Colombia FARC Dissident Leader Duarte Presumed Killed in Venezuela

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BOGOTA, May 25 (Reuters) – Miguel Botache Santillana, better known as Gentil Duarte, who leads one faction of former FARC rebels who remained armed after a peace deal with Colombia’s government, is presumed killed in Venezuela, Colombia’s Defense Minister Diego Molano told journalists on Wednesday.

Though most members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) demobilized under the 2016 deal, which ended the FARC’s role in the country’s nearly 60 year conflict, two major groups reject it and according to security forces have continued to participate in drug trafficking and illegal mining.

“Colombian intelligence suggests alias Gentil Duarte was killed in the state of Zulia in Venezuela following a clash between these drug trafficking and terrorist groups,” Molano told reporters.

The groups, who fight the government and each other, count a total of around 2,400 combatants, the Colombian military has said, estimating a third of dissidents are based in neighboring Venezuela. read more

Duarte fled Colombia seeking refuge in the neighboring country after two military operations against him last year, Molano said.

Colombia’s government has repeatedly accused Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro of sheltering the dissidents and even allowing military officials to ally with the Segunda Marquetalia group in drug trafficking deals. read more

Caracas has always denied the accusations. Venezuela’s government did not immediately respond to questions.

At least two top leaders of the dissident group known as the Segunda Marquetalia were killed in Venezuela last year.

Seuxis Hernandez, one of the Segunda Marquetalia’s most prominent leaders who was better known as Jesus Santrich, was confirmed killed in Venezuela just over a year ago, while Hernan Dario Velasquez, another top leader who was known as El Paisa, was killed in December. read more

Henry Castellanos Garzon, a third leader of the Segunda Marquetalia known as Romana, was also reported killed in Venezuela.

Last year a commander of a FARC dissident group claimed responsibility for a bomb attack on a military base, as well as the shooting of a helicopter carrying President Ivan Duque. read more

Reporting by Nelson Bocanegra, Oliver Griffin and Julia Symmes Cobb; editing by Grant McCool
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