BOGOTA (Reuters) - An attack by Colombian FARC rebels on a radar installation in Cauca province delayed flights in the south of the Andean nation as well as some bound for neighboring Ecuador and Panama, the civil aviation authority said on Saturday.
Guerrilla fighters from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia launched homemade missiles and gas cylinders at the installation, killing a police officer guarding the radar, officials said.
The attack underscores the ability of the FARC, as the drug-funded group is known, to harm the nation's economic infrastructure and civilian population even after a decade-long U.S.-funded offensive severely weakened the group and killed a number of its leaders.
The radar, which spans about 186 miles, provides coverage not only for civil aviation but for the fight against drug trafficking in the country.
Repairs on the radar will take several months, Santiago Castro, director of the civil aviation authority, said.
"The solution to prevent problems to the security of flights is to space them out," Castro told reporters. "We don't know if there will be reductions in flights, but there will be delays."
The FARC is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and Europe. The military offensive has dealt major blows to the FARC in the past several years and cut cocaine output in one of the world's top producers of the drug.
President Juan Manuel Santos has pushed through a range of reforms to tackle structural economic defects that prompt support for the FARC, such as returning land stolen by right-wing paramilitaries and rebels to displaced peasants.
"When a group like the FARC attacks sites that cause problems for the civilian population, it's a demonstration of its weakness and desperation because it's affecting the civilian population that it claims to be its base of support," Santos said on Saturday.
Security improvements have drawn record foreign investment to the Colombian economy, mostly into the oil and mining industries. Still, the security gains mask deep-seated issues like unequal land distribution, rural poverty, flourishing criminal gangs and weak institutions.
Both the FARC guerrillas and the government have called for peace but Santos says the Marxist rebels must first prove they want peace and release all hostages and stop attacks. The FARC has refused to disarm.
(Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta and Helen Murphy; Editing by Vicki Allen)