By Patrick Markey
BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia said on Tuesday FARC guerrillas slit a state governor's throat hours after they kidnapped him during a brazen raid in one of worst rebel strikes during President Alvaro Uribe's government.
The kidnapping of Luis Cuellar, the Caqueta state governor, underscored how Latin America's oldest insurgency remains capable of high-profile attacks despite being battered to its weakest level in decades by Uribe's U.S.-backed offensive.
Armed rebels, dressed in military uniforms, blasted through the door of Cuellar's house in a southern Colombian city late on Monday, killed a police guard and dragged the governor away from his wife and into a waiting jeep.
Cuellar's body was found on Tuesday as troops scoured the remote jungle in hopes of rescuing him. The kidnapping was a reminder of the darker days of Colombia's conflict when lawmakers were easy prey for rebel squads.
"He had his throat cut, they slaughtered him miserably," Uribe said in a national broadcast after Cuellar's body was discovered near the vehicle abandoned by rebels as they fled into jungle near Florencia city.
"As the armed forces were in pursuit, the terrorists cut the governor's throat to avoid firing any shots," he said.
The FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, had yet to issue an statement on the kidnapping.
The rebel group once controlled large parts of the country. But urban bombings and kidnappings have eased as Uribe sent troops to take back areas from armed groups who fund their war with cocaine trafficking.
Foreign investment has soared in Colombia, Latin America's No. 4 oil producer, as cities became safer, kidnappings dropped and soldiers took back rural areas once off limits to petroleum and mining companies because of security risks.
HOSTAGES IN JUNGLE CAMPS
Uribe, one of Washington's staunchest allies in Latin America, is popular at home for the success of his security policies. His allies are pushing for a constitutional change to allow the conservative to run for a third consecutive term.
His popularity remains high despite scandals over corruption, military involvement in civilian murders and paramilitary links to some of his lawmaker allies.
With around 9,000 fighters, the FARC is still a force in rural areas where state control is weak. But the rebels have increasingly turned to ambushes and the use of landmines as they are driven back deep into the mountains and jungles.
"The campaign against the FARC is still incomplete and requires more work and time," said Rafael Nieto, a former Colombian deputy justice minister and now a consultant. "The FARC can show they are still capable of these operations."
The FARC is holding 24 police and soldiers hostage -- some kidnapped more than a decade ago -- in jungle camps.
The governor's kidnapping occurred after the guerrilla group announced a plan to release two hostages. His killing likely will scuttle the handover for now and Uribe has urged the military to attempt rescue operations.
The FARC has been weakened by the killing of several top commanders last year and a steady flow of desertions. In a major defeat, the military last year tricked guerrillas into handing over three American contractors and a French-Colombian politician who were the rebel group's most important hostages.
(Additional reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; editing by Mohammad Zargham and Bill Trott)