According to the Colombian military, the top commander of the Farc, Colombia’s largest rebel group, has died.
Manuel “Sureshot” Marulanda’s death had earlier been reported by a national news magazine on 26 March, after bombing raids by the Colombian air force.
No confirmation has been given by Farc sources. It’s not the first time Mr Marulanda’s death is rumoured, and so far it has been disproved each time.
In the same time, Colombian president, Alvaro Uribe, said some rebels were ready to surrender themselves and some key hostages.
Mr Uribe said he had received “calls” from Farc leaders, who told him that they were ready to hand over hostages, including former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt. They also said they were ready to leave the guerrilla force, if their freedom could be guaranteed.
But the president added that some commanders were determined to fight on. Mr Uribe’s popularity is riding high in Colombia, thanks to his hard-line campaign against the Farc.
About Mr Marulanda’s reported death, Alvaro Uribe remained cautious. He just said that the information came from sources that “have been serious, let’s wait.”
To BBC correspondents, if Mr Marulanda’s death is confirmed, it could even lead to the end of the Farc.
Since its foundation in 1964, the revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia has been led by Manuel Marulanda, whose real name is Pedro Antonio Marin.
‘The hardest blow’
Thought to be 78 years old, there have been persistent rumours of Mr Marulanda’s ill health, including evidence that suggested he had prostate cancer.
In a statement from the head of the Joint Chiefs of staff, Admiral David Rene Moreno, said that the way Mr Marulanda died was not confirmed yet.
He said that the area where Mr Marulanda was believed to have been staying has been targeted by three bombing raids by government forces, but not on the date he is reported to have died.
The version among the Farc rebels themselves was that their leader died from a heart attack, added Admiral Moreno. He also said that they have designated a political leader, known as Alfonso Cano (photo), as his successor.
“If they are going to say that the information we have is not correct, then let them prove it” he said.
“Whether Marulanda died in an air raid or of natural causes, this would be the hardest blow that this terrorist group has taken, since ‘Sureshot’ was the one who kept the criminal organisation united.”
To Jeremy McDermott, BBC’s correspondent in Bogota, the 44-year-old rebel movement is currently suffering its worst period yet, with two top commanders dead and others surrendered, such as Karina.
Farc holds scores of people hostage in jungle bases, including Ingrid Betancourt, abducted in 2002, during the presidential campaign.