Colombian officials confirmed on Friday the killing of leading FARC rebel Ivan Rios on Colombian territory, days after another leader was slayed in Ecuador. Yet opinion differs over who is the killer.
A top-ranking leader of Colombia's FARC rebel group was killed Friday -- the second in less than a week, but officials differed as to whether he was slain by Colombian soldiers or his own men.
An official with the justice ministry's prosecution department said Ivan Rios, one of the seven members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia's central high command of, was killed by troops in western Colombia.
But another official with the defense ministry claimed Rios -- whose real name is Manuel Munoz Ortiz -- was killed by "by his own men to earn the reward" offered by the government.
The officials were speaking separately to AFP on condition of anonymity.
Rios was the second member of the seven-strong FARC secretariat to be slain, following a Colombian military operation Saturday just inside Ecuador that killed Raul Reyes, the rebel group's number two leader.
That strike caused outrage across Latin America and sparked a serious row with Ecuador and its ally Venezuela, both of which deployed troops to their border with Colombia.
The two Colombian officials speaking about the latest blow against the FARC said Rios, aged in his 40s, was killed Friday in Samana, a village in western Colombia, 400 kilometers (250 miles) from the capital.
The official with the prosecutor's office said: "We can confirm that Ivan Rios, a member of the FARC's secretariat, died in this operation by the army and the CTI (the office's Technical Investigation Corps)."
But the defense ministry official said other guerrillas had taken Rios's life for the 2.6-million-dollar bounty Bogota had put on the his head.
Colombia's Radio Caracol supported that version, saying that three men approached an army batallion in the western city of Manizales and told the garrison commander that they had killed Rios. They reportedly delivered a severed hand as proof.
Rios had been reportedly living in Venezuela, Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos said in January.
He was believed to have been a go-between with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who this year has received six hostages released by the FARC.
Venezuelan media reported that Chavez had met Rios and other FARC leaders on November 2 last year to arrange the hostage release.
Rios, a seminarist before joining the FARC, was believed to be the youngest member of the secretariat and considered one of the closest aides to FARC founder and chief Manuel Marulanda, who is in his late 70s.
Rios joined the high command in 2003 to replace one of FARC's founders, Efrain Guzman, who died of an illness.
Founded in 1964 with the stated goal of toppling the Colombian government, FARC currently has between 6,000 and 8,000 fighters, according to the government. It is considered a terrorist group by Europe and the United States.
Date created : 2008-03-07