Image: Nelly Avila Moreno
Raul Arboleda  /  AFP - Getty Images
One of the top-ranking women leaders of Colombia's Marxist FARC guerrillas, Nelly Avila Moreno, is escorted by soldiers on Monday in Medellin.
updated 5/19/2008 9:05:21 PM ET 2008-05-20T01:05:21

A day after surrendering to the army, Colombia's best-known female rebel commander urged other guerrillas Monday to follow her example and abandon their decades-long struggle.

Nelly Avila Moreno, better known as "Karina," denied her bloody reputation during a news conference and said her surrender owed much to intense military operations. She said she feared for her life after the recent murder of a fellow rebel commander by one of his bodyguards.

Avila also expressed admiration Venezuela's socialist president, Hugo Chavez, who has been implicated in seeking to arm and finance the rebels, according to documents the Colombian government says it found on the computer of a different slain guerrilla.

Her surrender Sunday was a major propaganda victory for President Alvaro Uribe, who has made defeating the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, the cornerstone of his administration.

Army was closing in on Avila
In recent months, the army had been closing in on Avila, who had a $1 million bounty on her head. Just two weeks ago, Uribe made a special call for her to turn herself in.

"To my comrades: Change this life that you are leading in the guerrilla group and re-enter society with the government's reinsertion plan," Avila told reporters.

She said she was not sure of her legal status, but she should be able to apply for leniency under a law designed to encourage demobilization that caps prison terms at eight years.

Avila commanded a FARC contingent that operated in northwest Colombia's coffee-growing zone, where she said the rebels were now in the process of "breaking up."

"The decision (to surrender) was made because of the pressure by the army in the area," she said, standing alongside her boyfriend, another guerrilla who also surrendered.

Avila said she contacted the army to send a helicopter, and images released by authorities showed the two on a mountainside next to a bonfire they built to identify the pickup site.

Her comments gave a glimpse into how some parts of the FARC are faring under a withering U.S.-backed offensive by Colombia's military, which has claimed the lives of several top commanders in recent months and isolated the its leadership.

Spooked by March murder
Avila said she had been cut off from the main front in the area for the past two years, and had not had been in contact with the guerrillas' seven-member ruling Secretariat during that time.

She admitted to being spooked by the March killing of Secretariat member Ivan Rios by one of his bodyguards, who cut off Rios' hand and delivered it with his laptop in return for a reward.

"It's a difficult situation: You have a lot of fighters by your side, but you don't know what each one is thinking," Avila said. "Some of them are thinking of their economic situation."

The prosecutor's office released a statement saying she was wanted for several massacres in 1999 and 2002 and on suspicion of terrorism and kidnapping. The office did not give further details.

Avila denied the allegations and said other guerrillas could confirm she was not involved in many of those crimes. She rejected unsourced media reports implicating her in the 1983 killing of Uribe's father.

Avila also said, in response to a reporter's question, that she had no knowledge of Chavez arming or funding the FARC.

Asked what the Venezuelan president means to the rebels, she simply said: "We admire Chavez for the way he is."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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