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Is slaying the end for Colombia rebels?

BOGOTA, Colombia -- President Juan Manuel Santos Saturday called on fighters of Latin America's only major rebel force to accept the killing of their top leader as proof the movement is doomed and to surrender.

"This is the moment to decide to lay down your arms because, as we've said many times, the alternative is prison or a tomb," Santos told combatants of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia a day after troops killed their 63-year-old chief, Alfonso Cano.

But analysts don't think Cano's death will lead the drug-funded rebels, known by their Spanish initials FARC, to crumble. Though it's a body blow to the insurgents, the rebels remain potent. They have depth in their leadership and resilience steeled in a half century of armed revolt.

Santos expressed satisfaction but said it was "not a moment for triumphalism" after meeting Saturday with the military high command behind closed doors in Popayan, the southwestern provincial capital where Cano's body was taken.

He said Cano's ranks were infiltrated by rebel defectors, but refused to discuss details.

Santos added that "my eyes moistened" at the news of Cano's death, "a few tears of emotion." The rebels, estimated at 9,000 fighters, have suffered devastating losses and record desertions since February 2008. Cano was the fourth member of the FARC's ruling seven-man secretariat, a Politburo of sorts, to die a violent death in the interim.

He was the first FARC commander to be tracked down and killed.

Nearly a decade of U.S. military and intelligence assistance and training have hamstrung the FARC's communications abilities, undermining its ability to coordinate attacks and mesh strategy among its widely dispersed units.

Now that Cano is dead, the insurgency will name a new commander, a process bound to take time. It is also apt to try to prove it is anything but defeated.

Cano was felled by three bullets in a remote area of Cauca state along with three other rebels, two men and a woman, after his hideout in forested hills was bombed, officials said Saturday.

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