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Deputy Farc leader killed in raid

Colombia's military killed the number two leader and top military strategist of the country's main rebel army in blistering bombardments of a major jungle camp, officials announced, saying a rebel informant helped prepare the demoralising shock to an already weakened insurgency.

The death of Jorge Briceno, also known as Mono Jojoy, is a huge setback for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or Farc, which has been reeling from years of pressure by an increasingly effective US-backed military.

President Juan Manuel Santos called the attack "the most crushing blow against the Farc in its entire history" - more important than the March 2008 bombing raid across the border with Ecuador that killed Farc foreign minister Raul Reyes or the bloodless ruse that July that freed former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, three US contractors and 11 other hostages.

Mr Santos, who was defence minister during both operations, got the news while jogging in New York City's Central Park and explained what Briceno's death means to Colombians: "It is as if they told New Yorkers that Osama bin Laden had fallen."

Briceno, 57, joined the Farc as an illiterate teenager and spent the rest of his life in the jungle, becoming a feared and charismatic commander in a force that a decade ago controlled nearly half of Colombia.

Analysts predicted his loss could lead many rebels to give up the fight and might nudge the Farc to seek peace in earnest.

Mr Santos told reporters that at least 20 rebels were killed, including other senior insurgents whose identities were not disclosed pending fingerprint and DNA tests, in operations that began on Monday night with bombing raids involving at least 30 war planes and 27 helicopters and ended with ground combat on Wednesday.

Air force chief General Julio Gonzalez said that Super Tucano and other war planes dropped more than 50 bombs on the camp.

Commandos found Briceno's body outside a concrete bunker in a camp laced with tunnels and recovered at least 14 laptop computers and 50 USB drives, officials said. They said the raid was six months in the making and benefited from radio spectrum surveillance.

Defence minister Rodrigo Rivera highlighted "the collaboration of members of the Farc itself" and added that "the Farc is rotting inside".

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