Colombian Prez Says FARC Rebel Leader Owned 57 Ranches

He was a rebel who loved the land he stole.

President Juan Manuel Santos said Saturday that the late leader and co-founder of the country's main leftist rebel group owned 57 ranches in two states alone.

The information about Manuel Marulanda's holdings was found in computers belonging to two other top leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia slain by the military since September 2010, Santos told a public meeting in the northeastern city of Valledupar.

The ranches in Norte de Santander, which borders Venezuela, and Cundinamarca, which includes Bogota, are valued at $5.2 million and were illegally obtained from peasants, the president said.

A government official charged with consolidating the state's presence in traditional guerrilla strongholds, Alvaro Balcazar, said the rebels may have stolen more land from peasants than extreme-right militias have.

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Agriculture Minister Juan Camilo Restrepo told The Associated Press by phone on Saturday that his ministry calculates that rebels were responsible 20 percent of lands seized from peasants against 80 percent by the far-right militias known as paramilitaries.

Under a restitution law enacted last year that Restrepo is carrying out with Santos' blessing, the state is seeking to return to peasants more than 7,700 square miles (2 million hectares) of land stolen by illegal armed groups and twice that amount abandoned by peasants fearful of them.

Colombia is second only to Sudan in its internally displaced population.

Independent land expert Yamile Salinas says that unlike Colombia's paramilitaries, who often stole land on which agricultural megaprojects subsequently appeared, the FARC has typically distributed seized lands to its own.

Marulanda, who lived a simple life and died a natural death in 2008 in his late 70s, was known to regularly grant farms to retired FARC fighters.

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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