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LT-Venezuela-Rebel Monument

Late rebel leader to get monument in Venezuela

By FABIOLA SANCHEZ

Associated Press Writer

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — A monument to the late Colombian rebel leader Manuel Marulanda, who died in March at age 78, is going up in a poor Caracas neighborhood.

Members of a leftist group announced plans Wednesday to place a bust of the founding leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, in a plaza that is still under construction.

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Marulanda, nicknamed "Sureshot," led the FARC for more than four decades and was considered an arch-terrorist by the Colombian government. At the time of his death by apparent heart attack, he was wanted by Colombia’s chief prosecutor in more than 100 cases on charges including rebellion, kidnapping and homicide.

In Bogota, Colombian armed forces chief Gen. Freddy Padilla criticized the monument to Marulanda, calling him "a terrorist who murdered, blackmailed, trafficked drugs and led a series of activities that for more than 50 years have caused suffering, terror and misery for Colombians."

The effort to erect the monument is being led by the Venezuelan chapter of a group known as the Continental Bolivarian Coordinator, which says it supports the aims of the FARC, including overthrowing Colombia’s government.

The effort to erect the monument is being led by the Venezuelan chapter of a group known as the Continental Bolivarian Coordinator, which says it supports the aims of the FARC, including overthrowing Colombia’s government.

Members of the group have promoted the FARC continentwide, according to documents the Colombian government says it found in March in the computer of a slain rebel commander. Colombian officials accuse it of being a rebel tool for gaining international support.

Group member Frank Leon said the monument is an independent effort by Venezuelans to honor Marulanda, and that neither President Hugo Chavez’s government nor the FARC were involved. The project was approved by the neighborhood council in the pro-Chavez 23 de Enero district.

"Maybe it’s going to stir up controversy, but that’s fine with us," Leon said Wednesday in a community center next to the unfinished plaza. Leon was among group members who said they were associated with the Venezuelan Communist Party.

On the center’s walls hung posters of Marulanda, slain FARC commander Raul Reyes and Basque separatist group ETA, along with a painting of South American independence hero Simon Bolivar - the inspiration of Chavez’s socialist movement.

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New concrete has been laid in the 23 de Enero neighborhood, where the bust is to be placed as soon as Friday. Resident Maria Gonzalez said she doesn’t object to the monument because the plaza is being cleaned up.

Among those attending a news conference to announce the project were six young men wearing olive-green caps and T-shirts bearing a symbol of ETA.

"The struggle continues, and Marulanda lives on," they chanted at one point.

In Colombia, Conservative party Sen. Manuel Ramiro Velasquez called the monument "the greatest homage to international terrorism and barbarity, and the worst offense to the dignity of Colombians."

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