Sat, May 24, 2008 - Page 7 News List

Colombia opens probe into FARC connections

CASTING THE NET WIDER Journalists, politicians and a US consultant are all under investigation based on information gleaned from laptops seized in a March raid

AP , BOGOTA

Colombia's chief prosecutor opened preliminary investigations on Thursday into contacts between leftist rebels and prominent politicians, journalists and foreigners — including a US consultant.

The prosecutor, Mario Iguaran, also asked the Supreme Court to probe three opposition lawmakers including Senator Piedad Cordoba, who helped Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez broker the recent release of six rebel hostages. Only the court has the authority to investigate and try Colombian legislators.

The announcement came as Colombian President Alvaro Uribe grapples with two scandals: More than 30 members of Congress, mostly Uribe allies, have been jailed on charges of colluding with far-right militias and three politicians have been arrested in a bribery scandal linked to a congressional vote that enabled Uribe’s 2006 re-election.

Iguaran said the investigations were prompted by documents found on laptops that Colombian authorities recovered during a March 1 cross-border raid on a rebel camp in Ecuador that killed Raul Reyes, a top leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

The prosecutor did not specify what charges any of those under investigation might face.

Colombian Foreign Minister Fernando Araujo said the government will request the extradition of those under investigation “in the event Colombian prosecutors require the presence of these people.”

Uribe’s government says the laptop documents indicate Chavez was seeking to finance and arm the FARC, while Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa, was seeking close ties. Both neighboring presidents deny the accusations.

The foreigners placed under investigation on Thursday include two Ecuadorians, a Venezuelan and a US alternative development expert James Jones, who has been working with Democrats in the US Congress.

Jones said on Thursday that he considers the investigation of him “ludicrous.”

He said his contacts with Reyes were mediation efforts to obtain the release of hostages including three US military contractors held by the FARC since February 2003.

“I look at this and I laugh,” Jones said in a telephone interview from the US.

The Venezuelan placed under investigation on Thursday is Amilkar Figueroa, a Chavez ally and member of the Parlamento Latino whom Colombian officials have privately called a FARC operative. One document says he visited a Chinese surface-to-air-missile factory and later delivered a catalog to the FARC.

Figueroa could not be located for comment on Thursday. His office in Caracas had closed for the day.

The Ecuadorians include a member of that country’s constituent assembly, Maria Augusta Calle, whom Colombian officials accuse of being a close FARC collaborator. No one answered calls to her cellphone.

The four Colombians being probed by the chief prosecutor’s office include journalist William Parra of the Chavez-funded Telesur television network; former deputy peace commissioner Lazaro Viveros; the editor of the Colombian communist party’s weekly newspaper, Carlos Lozano; and Alvaro Leyva, a former presidential candidate and longtime go-between with the rebels.

Viveros said that as a journalist he had three interviews with Reyes and as an intermediary he was “trying to push for a prisoner swap and trying to stop this bloody war.”

“This was done with the full knowledge of the government,” he said.

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