Fri, Jan 14, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Colombia recruits bounty hunters to nab rebel chiefs

CASH FOR MARXISTS The appeal comes after the government admitted that it paid an unspecified sum for the capture of FARC leader Rodrigo Granda last month in Venezuela

AP , BOGOTA, COLOMBIA

Colombia has invited the world's bounty hunters to search the country's jungles and cities for Marxist rebel commanders and bring them back in exchange for hefty cash rewards.

"Hopefully all the bounty hunters of the world will come here to capture these bandits. The money is here for them and the rewards are good and can be handed out anywhere in the world," Vice Pres-ident Francisco Santos told reporters on Wednesday.

Santos' appeal came as the government acknowledged for the first time that it paid an unspecified sum for the capture in Ven-ezuela of Rodrigo Granda, a leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

VENEZUELANS COMPLAIN

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has alleged Granda was kidnapped off the streets of Caracas on Dec. 13 and demanded Colombia come clean about its role in the operation. He warned that the kidnapping could constitute a violation of his country's sovereignty.

Colombian Defense Minister Jorge Alberto Uribe insisted for weeks that Granda was nabbed in the Colombian border city of Cucuta but acknowledged on Wed-nesday the rebel was taken in Caracas and delivered to police in Cucuta for reward money.

Colombian officials won't say who the bounty hunters were.

There were suggestions that moonlighting Venezuelan police officers and Colombian officers may have taken part, but that hasn't been confirmed.

Uribe also refused to disclose the reward amount.

Asked about Venezuelan lawmaker Luis Tacon's claim that Colombia paid US$1.5 million for Granda, Uribe said: "That is not the sum. The exact figure will not be divulged."

He insisted that Colombian agents were not involved in the operation and that it was carried out "without violating Venezuela's sovereignty."

Granda is believed to have been responsible for garnering support in Latin America and Europe for the FARC.

He faces charges of rebellion and for his membership of a terrorist organization.

His arrest -- along with that of another senior FARC commander in Ecuador early last year -- has put the spotlight on the ties between the FARC and neighboring countries, where the rebels are believed to often find sanctuary.

Colombian officials have offered US$2.1 million for information leading to the capture or killing of FARC supremo Manual Marulanda and the group's military chief, who goes by the alias Mono Jojoy.

HOSTAGES ALSO SOUGHT

The Colombian government has offered a similar reward for information leading to the safe return of any of 63 hostages, including three Americans, the FARC is holding.

In his speech, Santos only referred to leftist rebels. Right-wing paramilitary leaders have been given immunity from arrest while they pursue peace talks with the government.

Colombia paid US$4.2 million last year in rewards for all kinds of information that helped authorities arrest rebels or drug traffickers, seize cocaine or thwart terror attacks, said Deputy Defense Minister Andres Penate.

"It has been a fundamental element in improving the state's fight against terrorist actions, the arrest of terrorist leaders and restoring state authority," Penate said.

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