Fri, May 23, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Colombian soldiers spent plunder on riotous orgy

REUTERS , BOGOTA

Elite Colombian troops eager to pocket US$14 million in rebel cash threatened to kill reluctant comrades before plunging into an orgy of prostitutes, whiskey and luxury goods, military sources said on Wednesday.

Feverish negotiations took place after 147 soldiers stumbled on the cash buried in plastic containers in a jungle mine field on Good Friday. Sergeants pressured officers to divide the booty instead of reporting it, senior sources said.

Conspirators threatened to kill hesitant soldiers if they ever opened their mouths to report what has become a huge embarrassment for Colombia's US-backed armed forces, which admitted the scandal on Monday night.

"They had to take a share under threat," said Colonel Ramiro Gaitan, commander of the crack 6th Mobile Brigade, to which the renegades belonged.

Prostitutes in the southern Colombian city of Popayan told local media they got several times the going rate for their services as troops ran riot on whiskey and women.

Colombian soldiers earn an average US$175 a month.

"They gave the enlisted men US$60,000 each," said Gaitan, adding that officers and noncommissioned officers got more.

"They lined up the platoons and dished it out."

Some bought expensive sunglasses and clothes and went on trips to restaurants and brothels, swilling hard liquor and showering dollar bills on prostitutes.

"We began to hear rumors of soldiers present in houses of ill repute, in discotheques," said Gaitan.

Authorities believe that the money was hidden by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a Marxist band known by the Spanish initials FARC.

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