- The Washington Times - Monday, August 25, 2003

MEDELLIN, Colombia — Colombia’s two most powerful rebel groups, which have clashed on many occasions, announced yesterday they will now fight together, presenting the government with a more dangerous united front.

The move by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) comes in response to Bogota stepping up efforts to crush the groups.

In recent months, Colombia’s Oxford-educated president, Alvaro Uribe, has moved the country to a war footing, with war taxes, the formation of a peasant militia and the spending of billions of dollars of U.S. aid to fight the guerrillas.

With the reinvigorated army making advances against the Marxist guerrillas, they said: “The guerrilla commanders of both organizations met in the mountains of Colombia in an environment of camaraderie, fraternity and mutual respect.”

An ELN communique added: “The ELN and FARC, as insurgent organizations and part of the people, are expecting to unite forces.”

For months there have been rumors that the heads of the two organizations were planning a meeting.

Manual Marulanda, alias “Sureshot,” has led the FARC since its foundation in 1964 and built the group from a number of cousins and friends into a 17,000-strong force that dominates 40 percent of the country and earns an estimated $300 million a year from drugs, kidnapping and extortion.

Nicolas Rodriguez, alias “Gabino,” joined the ELN when he was 14. He was one of the first members of the group and rose through the ranks with a reputation as an unequaled guerrilla fighter.

Despite both espousing Marxism and fighting to overthrow the state, the groups have never seen eye to eye, and relations have often generated into open warfare over sources of revenue and recruits.

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