By Cesar Garcia
Colombia's military said Monday that it killed at least 20 Revolutionary Armed Forces insurgents in a weekend air raid on a cluster of guerrilla camps in its most deadly attack on the country's main leftist rebel group since March.
President Juan Manuel Santos has refused to honour a unilateral cease-fire declared by the rebels, known by their Spanish initials FARC, when they began formal peace talks with the government in Havana on Nov 19.
Six bodies were recovered after Sunday's pre-dawn bombardment of the camps in the country's southwestern state of Narino near the Ecuadorean border, said Gen Leonardo Barrera, head of the army's joint southwestern command.
He said scattered remnants of other rebels were found.
"Also found there were chains where it appears they constantly kept kidnap victims that they must have certainly brought from Ecuador," Barrera said.
The regional army commander, Gen Jorge Alberto Segura, said about 60 rebels were in the three camps, which were located with the help of local residents.
If the rebel death toll was indeed as high as 20, it would have been the highest for the FARC since 36 rebels were killed in March in the bombing of a rebel camp in Vistahermosa, a traditional insurgent stronghold in the southeastern state of Meta.
As a condition for beginning the first, secret, six-month phase of talks, which ended in August, the FARC agreed to halt all ransom kidnappings.
The rebels had said they no longer held any kidnap victims when peace talks began last month. But last week, they freed four Chinese oil workers whom they had abducted in June 2011.
Analyst Ariel Avila of the Nuevo Arco Iris foundation said he didn't believe Sunday's bombardment would in any way affect the peace talks.
"There's no effect because this is what happens in war. That's the calculus," he said.