Colombian rebel's surrender weakens FARC amid standoff with Venezuela

Nelly Avila Moreno's call for dialogue comes as the Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez accuses the US of stirring tension.

A veteran Colombian rebel commander has surrendered to government troops and called for dialogue to end a decades-old revolt. Nelly Avila Moreno, who led a unit of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), gave herself up Sunday after 24 years with the left-wing movement. Colombia's Army chief urged other FARC combatants to accept a government amnesty offer and stop fighting.

Her high-profile surrender is the latest setback for one of Latin America's most tenacious rebel forces, which the US and European Union have labeled a terrorist organization. In March, Raúl Reyes, a senior FARC commander and member of its seven-member politburo died in March during an Army attack. Shortly after, another politburo member was killed by his own bodyguard.

Ms. Moreno, who is known as "Karina," spoke Monday to reporters in Colombia's capital, Bogotá, reports CNN. She said pressure from Colombian troops, who claim to have virtually dismantled the unit that she commanded, had led to her surrender along with her boyfriend's. She urged other FARC combatants to follow suit.

Meanwhile, Venezuela accused the US of trying to stir tensions between Venezuela and Colombia after a US Navy airplane strayed into Venezuelan airspace. The Pentagon says the pilot had a navigation problem during the weekend incident and wasn't trying to provoke anyone. Venezuelan government officials claim that the US wants to stoke a conflict that would justify a US military intervention in the region, reports Bloomberg.

Agence France-Presse reports that Venezuela's defense minister told a press conference Monday that the aircraft "practically flew over" two Venezuelan islands before leaving its airspace in a "deliberate action" to provoke tensions.

Behind this spat is Colombia's accusation that left-wing Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is supporting the FARC with money and weapons. Ties between the two countries have suffered in recent months over the claim, which surfaced after Colombia seized allegedly compromising laptop computer files during a March raid on a FARC camp in Ecuador. Mr. Chávez ordered troops to the Colombia border after the raid in Ecuador, which is led by a Chávez ally.

Last week, The Christian Science Monitor reported that an international forensics team concluded that Colombia hadn't tampered with the computer files, though it didn't pronounce on their authenticity. Chávez says the laptop data is false and part of a smear campaign by Colombia and the US. Some policymakers in Washington are now convinced that Venezuela is sponsoring terrorism and should be labeled as such. Such a stance, though, could endanger oil imports from Venezuela, the fifth-largest supplier of foreign oil sold in the US.

The Washington Post reported last week that the retrieved computer data shows that Venezuelan government officials offered to procure surface-to-air missiles and to help FARC commanders travel overseas for missiles training. Colombian officials said these missiles may not have arrived, but that other weaponry was supplied by Venezuela to FARC forces in order to strengthen their hand against US-backed government troops.

Al Jazeera reports that Moreno, the FARC commander who surrendered, told reporters in the Colombia city of Medellín that the rebel army was "cracking" under pressure from Colombia's US-equipped Army and couldn't sustain its campaign.

The Associated Press says her capture is seen as a propaganda victory for Colombia President Álvaro Uribe, who appealed publicly two weeks ago for her to turn herself in. She had a $1 million bounty on her head and is wanted for murder, terrorism, kidnapping, and rebellion. Under the government's amnesty scheme, any sentencing of demobilized rebels is capped at a maximum eight years in prison.

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