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Deaths a blow to rebels

BOGOTA, Colombia — The guerrilla walked out of the jungle tired, hungry and bearing the dismembered hand of his slain commander.

The rebel, known simply as Rojas, said Colombian troops were closing in on his guerrilla column Monday and he wanted out of the fight. But the rebels shoot deserters — so instead he murdered his commander and fled, lopping off the dead man's right hand and presenting it to the army on Thursday, he said.

"I did it to save my life," Rojas, whose real name is Pedro Montoya, said at a news conference Saturday in the western city of Pereira.

The delivery represented an unexpected gift for President Alvaro Uribe: the death of the second top leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia in less than a week, and a severe blow to the rebel group.

The slaying of Ivan Rios, leader of the FARC's central region, came two days after Colombian troops crossed the border into Ecuador on March 1 and killed senior rebel commander Raul Reyes and 24 others. The raid sparked a diplomatic crisis that saw Ecuador and its ally Venezuela pull their ambassadors from Bogota and order troops to their borders with Colombia.

Presidents of the three countries agreed to end the dispute at a summit of Latin American leaders held Friday in the Dominican Republic.

Uribe argued the strike was necessary because Ecuador had allowed the guerrillas to take refuge within its borders, and accused both Ecuador and Venezuela of supporting the leftist rebels. Both nations denied it.

On Saturday, the Colombian military displayed Rios' body — with a small bullet hole in the middle of his forehead.

"The death of Ivan Rios, at the hands of one of his own fellow guerrillas, definitely has to represent the interior implosion" of the rebels, said Gen. Mario Montoya, the army's top commander.

Analysts said the deaths of Reyes and Rios represent a domestic triumph for Uribe well worth the fallout with Ecuador and Venezuela.

Deaths a blow to rebels 03/08/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 9:32am]
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