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FARC Leader ‘Close’ to Death, Capture in Raid, Colombia Says

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July 3 (Bloomberg) -- Alfonso Cano, leader of Colombia’s biggest rebel group, narrowly missed being caught or killed during a military attack on his jungle camp, leaving the area just 12 hours earlier, President Juan Manuel Santos said.

Cano, who in 2008 took the helm of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, fled the camp near Chaparral, Tolima just before troops raided the camp hidden in a thick jungle canopy, Santos said. Cigarette butts thought to be the brand favored by Cano were found littered around the camp, he said.

“We were very close to Cano,” Santos said in a televised press conference in Bogota. “He didn’t die, but he was very close. Sooner or later he will fall, like all the other FARC leaders.”

Cano, 62, an academic from Bogota whose middle-class background differs from the FARC’s peasant base, has attempted to reignite morale in the drug-funded group and show it is still relevant after repeated government attacks depleted its numbers and killed some of its key leaders. Cano replaced FARC founder Manuel Marulanda, who died of a heart attack.

Santos and his predecessor Alvaro Uribe have waged a brutal offensive against the group, which has fought the government for almost a half century. The group’s numbers dwindled to fewer than 8,000 from a peak of about 17,000 in 2002 as FARC fighters deserted their ranks, according to the government.

Cano, whose real name is Guillermo Saenz, was an anthropology professor from Bogota before joining the FARC.

To contact the reporter on this story: Helen Murphy in Bogota at hmurphy1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bill Faries at wfaries@bloomberg.net

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