BOGOTA, Colombia (CNN) -- Pablo Montoya may receive $2.5 million from the Colombian government for shooting a man in the head and cutting off his hand.
Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos said a rebel defector will receive part of the reward money.
The Colombian government plans to open its checkbook because Montoya killed Ivan Rios, one of the most senior leaders in a rebel army that has waged war against the Colombian state for more than 40 years.
Yet the idea of rewarding a killer has stirred intense debate in Colombia. Some say that rewarding admitted killers sets a dangerous precedent. Others salute authorities for hitting back -- hard -- against a rebel army implicated in numerous deaths.
The Bible called for "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth," and people more recently have paid rewards for people wanted dead or alive, said Vicente Torrijos, an analyst.
"Now if that is ethical or not -- that's a debate that happens in the culture of each society," he told CNN.
Montoya had spent 16 years as a rebel with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, when he decided to betray his commander. On March 3, he says, he shot and killed Rios and a companion and then cut off his commander's hand.
"I did it to save my life," he said.
Montoya said he walked for 15 days, with little food, before finally delivering the severed hand to Colombia authorities as macabre proof of the deed. They said it was the first time in the FARC's history that a rebel had killed his commander and gone on to share information with authorities.
News of Rios' death delighted the Colombian government. It came just days after a Colombia military raid killed the second-in-command of the FARC. The deaths of two senior FARC leaders represented a significant victory in the Colombian government's long and bloody fight with the rebels.
Army Commander Mario Montoya hailed the event as a possible turning point.
"The death of Ivan Rios at the hands of a colleague definitely signifies the implosion of the FARC from the inside," he said. "We hope that his situation definitely will increase rebel desertions."
After huddling with legal advisers, senior government officials said they plan to pay Pablo Montoya a reward of up to $2.5 million -- even though prosecutors still must weigh whether to charge him with murder.
Some oppose the reward.
"I believe that this sends the message that the ends justifies the means," said Jorge Rojas, who advocates for human rights and works with people displaced by war in Colombia. "In that sense, the dead-or-alive rewards institutionalize the death penalty" and could prompt civilians to take on military roles.
Torrijos, the analyst, noted that many human rights advocates view the reward to Montoya as a "very grave" precedent. Not long after the former rebel killed his boss, Torrijos noted, another guerilla killed his superior in northern Colombia. E-mail to a friend
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