BOGOTA, Colombia — A top rebel leader was killed by his own chief of security, who gave Colombian troops the leader's severed hand as proof, the defense minister said Friday.
Ivan Rios was the second top rebel killed in a week, a major setback for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the country's largest rebel force.
No top Colombian rebel leader had ever been slain until Raul Reyes was killed last Saturday in a cross-border raid by Colombian troops into Ecuador that set off an international diplomatic crisis.
"The FARC has suffered a new, major blow," Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos told reporters. He said troops launched an operation to capture Rios, 46, on Feb. 17 after receiving tips that he was in a mountainous area straddling the western Colombian provinces of Caldas and Antioquia.
Thursday night, he said, a guerrilla known as Rojas came to the troops with Rios' severed right hand, laptop computer and ID, saying he had killed his boss on Monday. Rojas handed himself over to the soldiers. It was unclear what motivated the killing, but Santos said it was to "relieve the military pressure" because the rebels were "surrounded, without supplies and without communication."
The U.S. State Department has a bounty of $5-million for Rios' capture.
Santos said Colombia waited to make the announcement until it had confirmed Rios' identity. The military said it was transporting Rios' body to an army base in Manizales. Rios, whose real name has been given as Jose Juvenal Velandia and Manuel Jesus Munoz, faced U.S. federal charges of drug smuggling, and was on a U.S. Treasury Department list of terrorists and drug traffickers.
"He was the youngest member of the secretariat. He was very important to the rebels," said Alfredo Rangel of the Bogota-based think tank Security and Democracy. "This shows the army is capable of taking down the rebels' most important pillars."