By Agence France-Presse
A dissident rebel believed to be working for a Mexican drug cartel, and on the 'most wanted' lists of two South American countries, was killed Friday in a government operation, Colombia said.
Walther Arizala, known by his nom-de-guerre of "Guacho," is believed to have ordered the abduction and murder of a three-man Ecuadoran press team on the border with Colombia early this year.
Colombian President Ivan Duque (C) speaks next to Colombian Defense Minister Guillermo Botero (L) and Colombian Attorney General Nestor Humberto Martinez (R) at the Narino presidential palace in Bogota on December 21, 2018 (AFP / MANILA BULLETIN)
"We can confirm that (Arizala) alias Guacho fell in an operation and has been killed," Colombian President Ivan Duque told reporters.
"I told the Ecuadorian people that the crime against the three journalists would not be one of impunity."
Arizala is believed to have ordered the abduction and murder of journalist Javier Ortega, 32, photographer Paul Rivas, 45, and their 60-year-old driver Efrain Segarra in March and April.
They worked for Quito's El Comercio newspaper and were covering a story about violence along the border.
Their case prompted both countries to send troops to hunt down the perpetrators.
Arizala was "one of the most horrendous criminals that our country has known," Duque said.
Of Ecuadoran origin, Arizala served as a guerrilla for 15 years in the now-defunct FARC movement and then led the Oliver Sinisterra Front, which authorities blame for the kidnapping and murder in April of an Ecuadoran couple, as well as for the journalists' deaths.
Officials believed Guacho and his group of around 70-80 dissident rebels worked for Mexico's Sinaloa drug cartel.
Colombia is the world's biggest cocaine producer.
In September Duque said "Guacho" was wounded in a gunfight with Colombian soldiers in the jungle border region of Narino, the same area where he has now been killed.
Experts say the border zone, which is covered with dense jungle and crisscrossed by rivers leading into the Pacific, has become a paradise for drug traffickers.
Most Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels disbanded under a 2016 peace deal that ended half a century of conflict in Colombia, but more than 1,000 dissidents remain active.