NEW: Three other rebels are captured, says President Juan Manuel Santos
Colombia's defense minister says the operation is ongoing
Troops "are not going to stop" their offensive against the rebels, the president says
The operation occurs in the central Colombian department of Meta
Colombian forces killed 35 leftist guerrillas in an offensive Monday, authorities said, striking the group for the second time in as many weeks.
Three other rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia were captured in the early morning operation in the central Colombian department of Meta, President Juan Manuel Santos said.
Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon told CNN affiliate Caracol TV that the operation was continuing Monday.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, has been at war with the Colombian government since the 1960s. While severely weakened in recent years, the guerrilla group has continued to carry out kidnappings and attack security forces.
Last week, Pinzon said a joint military-police operation near the Venezuelan border led to the killing of 36 suspected rebels and the capture of five others, including a top leader of one faction of the rebel group.
“What does this demonstrate?” Santos said Monday, according to a copy of his remarks published on the presidency’s official website. “The Armed Forces are continuing their offensive, and they are not going to stop. They are going to continue. They are going to persevere.”
The president put the death toll of last week’s operation at 33. It was not immediately clear why his figure was lower than Pinzon’s.
Word of Monday’s operation comes at a delicate time, within days of a negotiated hostage handover.
Mediators have said the FARC is on the verge of releasing its remaining 10 government hostages.
But the handover has been rescheduled several times, and specific details have not been released to the public.
Pinzon told Caracol on Monday that the government remains “fully committed” to securing the hostages’ release.
“These people have been held hostage more than 12 years. It is senseless torture. It is time for us to give them that opportunity to be with their loved ones,” he said.
Journalist Fernando Ramos contributed to this report.