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Army kills rebel leader's bodyguards

Colombian forces have killed 12 leftist rebels in an attack on a unit assigned to protect the top guerrilla leader, punctuating a bloody weekend that left another 14 people dead around the country.

The rebels who died in the surprise raid on Sunday were part of the personal guard of Guillermo Saenz, known as Alfonso Cano, head of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, (Farc) the defence ministry said.

In separate battles over the weekend, officials said 10 soldiers, two police and two civilians were also killed as troops tried to wrest control of areas of the country from Farc.

Local media reports have said Colombia's army is closing in on Cano. His death or capture would give political momentum to President-elect Juan Manuel Santos, who is to be sworn in next month.

The dawn attack was carried out by Colombia's air force, army and police in the mountainous central province of Tolima. The bodies of eight men and four women from a guerrilla unit assigned to guard Cano were recovered, according to a defence ministry statement.

One of the dead women appeared to be Magaly Grannobles, also known as Marleny Rondon, head of one of Cano's "security rings", the statement said. She is accused of carrying out more than 30 attacks against Colombia's armed forces and committing more than 70 murders.