FARC dissident leader killed in Venezuela -local media

BOGOTA (Reuters) - A top commander belonging to a group of former Colombian rebels who rearmed following a 2016 peace deal was killed in an ambush in Venezuela, Colombian media reported on Sunday.

Hernan Dario Velasquez, known as El Paisa, is a former member of the now-demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas. He and several other well-known commanders said in 2019 they were rearming and forming a faction called Segunda Marquetalia.

Velasquez was killed in an attack by mercenaries seeking to cash in on rewards available for his capture, Colombian media, including El Tiempo newspaper, reported.

El Tiempo, citing high-level official sources, said the Colombian military was in no way involved in the operation, which it said took place in Apure state.

Neither Colombia's Defense Ministry nor the Venezuelan Information Ministry immediately responded to requests for comment.

A spokesman for Colombian President Ivan Duque said the office was seeking information about Velasquez's reported death, while the commander of the armed forces and the head of the national police both said they had no information.

Duque's government accuses Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro of sheltering and protecting FARC dissidents, but Caracas has repeatedly denied the accusations.

Colombian Defense Minister Diego Molano blamed a dispute over control of drug trafficking between the Venezuelan military and illegal armed groups for mass displacements of Venezuelans to Colombia earlier this year.

An Interpol red notice, which functions as a type of international arrest warrant obliging member countries - including Venezuela - to arrest and extradite criminal suspects, was reissued for Velasquez earlier this year.

The commander of Segunda Marquetalia, Ivan Marquez, told local media last week that Colombia's government should hold talks with all armed groups to seek "a complete peace" for the Andean country.

Dissident groups count some 2,400 fighters in their ranks, according to the government, and battle crime gangs and one another for access to illegal mining and cocaine production.

(Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb; Additional reporting by Vivian Sequera in Caracas and Luis Jaime Acosta in Bogota; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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