CAUCA MOUNTAINS, Colombia — Leftist Colombian rebels claimed Thursday they had shot down a missing military plane by showing its alleged wreckage, but President Juan Manuel Santos said that was "unlikely."
The fighters from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) displayed the debris of the plane and remains of one of the two Colombian Air Force crew members at a remote location in the southwestern Cauca mountains.
The rebels told reporters and a delegation from the International Committee of the Red Cross that they had shot down the Brazilian-built Embraer Super Tucano, which specializes in anti-guerrilla operations.
They later handed over the body and belongings of the victim to the Red Cross. Local emergency personnel later found the remains of the second crewman and delivered those to the Red Cross.
The low-flying war plane, designed for close air support and air reconnaissance, vanished Wednesday while supporting soldiers battling members of the leftist guerrilla group, which has a strong presence in the region.
Santos however expressed doubt at the rebels' ability to shoot down the plane.
"The truth is that we don't know yet what happened," Santos told Colombian media. "But it is very unlikely that the plane was shot down by the guerrillas because they are not yet able to do so."
Able to travel at high speed (550 kilometers, or 340 miles per hour on average), this type of aircraft can theoretically only be shot down by ground-to-air missiles, which authorities say the FARC has not yet obtained.
Air Force Commander General Tito Pinilla told reporters that there was "no solid evidence," suggesting the FARC was seeking to "take advantage of the situation."
"We are going to investigate to find out what happened," he said.
The plane vanished soon after Santos made a show of force by visiting the town of Toribio, also in the Cauca region, to hold a high-level meeting of ministers.
Toribio, which has a large native population, has been under attack by guerrillas since the weekend. Eight people were wounded in the attacks, which forced many of the town residents to temporarily flee, officials said.
Shots could be heard from nearby hillsides as Santos met with local authorities Wednesday. Helicopters buzzed the area.
Native communities in the region want both the soldiers and the guerrillas to leave.
Founded in 1964, the FARC is the oldest and largest leftist guerrilla group in the country with some 9,200 fighters.
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