Nine suspected FARC dissidents killed in Colombia military operation

FARC guerillas once operated in Guaviare department due to the abundance of drug crops and its strategic position for controlling drug trafficking (AFP Photo/Raul ARBOLEDA)

Bogota (AFP) - Nine suspected FARC dissidents were killed Monday in a military operation in southern Colombia, the defense ministry said.

The operation was carried out in the municipality of Calamar, in the southern central department of Guaviare, the ministry said on Twitter.

Defense minister Luis Carlos Villegas told a press conference authorities were in the process of identifying two of the dead believed to be rebel leaders.

He added that army, air force and police personnel contributed to the operation -- which included bombing -- allowing authorities to target the "entire criminal structure."

FARC guerrillas once operated in Guaviare due to the abundance of drug crops and its strategic position for controlling drug trafficking.

But a 2016 pact to end half a century of armed conflict saw 7,000 rebels disarmed -- and the FARC's transformation into a political party.

However, government and research centers say around 1,100 rebels broke away from the agreement, primarily to pursue drug trafficking and illegal mining.

As part of the peace deal, the FARC -- which funded its armed uprising with drug money -- committed to helping the government combat drug trafficking.

Colombia, whose government is now seeking a similar peace agreement with the National Liberation Army (ELN), is the world's biggest producer and exporter of cocaine.