Page last updated at 07:12 GMT, Monday, 19 May 2008 08:12 UK

Leading Farc commander surrenders

Nelly Avila Moreno, known as Karina, (left) is escorted by police officers in Colombia on 18 May 2008
Karina (left) surrendered in the face of relentless army offensives

A leading commander of the Farc rebels in Colombia has surrendered to the authorities, officials say.

Nelly Avila Moreno, known as Karina, was blamed for a string of murders and abductions, and for extortion in the north-western Antioquia region.

Her surrender is a coup for President Alvaro Uribe who made her a priority target for the security forces in 2002, the BBC's Jeremy McDermott says.

Farc has been fighting to overthrow the government for more than 40 years.

Karina was "nearly dying of hunger" when she and another guerrilla, known as Michin, handed themselves in, Colombian Defence Minister Juan Manuel Santos said.

"We have been after this woman who did such damage to Antioquia and the whole region of Uraba for a long time," Mr Santos told RCN Radio.

$800,000 reward

Karina, who is in her 40s, had a fearsome reputation in Antioquia, and many businessmen and ranchers suffered extortion, kidnapping and murder at her hands, our correspondent says.

None doubted her fighting prowess and she has the wounds to prove it: she has lost an eye in combat, has scars across her face and a bullet wound on one of her arms.

In 2002, a reward of more than $800,000 (409,000) was placed on her head.

Our correspondent says Karina was an example to the women in the rebel army, who make up more than a third of the ranks of Farc, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

Her immediate boss Ivan Rios, a member of the Farc ruling seven-man secretariat, was murdered in March by one of his bodyguards.

The bodyguard chopped off Rios's hand in order to prove to the authorities he had killed the commander and so collected a reward in excess of $1m.

Since then, Karina has been in sole command of the Farc division in Antioquia.

Colombian media reports say in the wake of Rios's killing, this division began to disintegrate and faced a sustained army offensive.

Two weeks ago, President Uribe sent a public message to Karina in which he guaranteed her safety if she handed herself in.

The governor of Antioquia, Luis Alfredo Ramos, was quoted by local media as saying that Karina's family had also urged her to surrender.

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