updated 5/4/2005 8:29:31 PM ET 2005-05-05T00:29:31

Colombian police arrested two U.S. soldiers for alleged involvement in a plot to traffic thousands of rounds of ammunition — possibly to outlawed right-wing paramilitary groups, authorities said.

The two soldiers were detained during a raid in a gated community in Carmen de Apicala, southwest of the capital and near Colombia's sprawling Tolemaida air base, where the detained soldiers worked and where many U.S. servicemen are stationed.

National Police chief Gen. Jorge Daniel Castro said Wednesday that the two U.S. Army soldiers were arrested Tuesday at the "Paradise" complex where a large cache of ammunition was discovered in one of the villas. He said Colombians were also involved.

"In the course of the investigation, two Americans arrived, they did not give a satisfactory explanation and were put at the disposal of the prosecutors' office," Castro said.

A police registry identified the U.S. servicemen only as Allam Norman Tanquary and Jesus Hernandez. It was unclear whether “Allam” was a misspelling.

Police said they were transferred Wednesday out of their holding cell to the district attorney's office in the city of Ibague. The convoy of vehicles that transferred them included U.S. officials, said the police spokesman, who asked to remain anonymous.

Four Colombians also arrested
The Colombian attorney general's office said the arrested American soldiers had been in contact with a former Colombian police sergeant, Will Gabriel Aguilar, who has been linked to paramilitary groups. Aguilar, another retired policeman and two other Colombians were also arrested, the police official said.

The cache was composed of more than 40,000 rounds of ammunition sent to Colombia by the United States under its Plan Colombia aid program, aimed at crushing a leftist insurgency and the drug trafficking that fuels it, officials said. The rounds are used for assault rifles, machine guns and pistols, police said.

The U.S. Embassy confirmed the arrests but declined to comment on any possible link between the case and the outlawed right-wing paramilitary groups, who are battling leftist rebels in Colombia. The U.S. government has branded the paramilitary umbrella group, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, as a terrorist organization, along with the two rebel groups.

The attorney general's office has formally opened an investigation into arms trafficking against those arrested and is studying treaties between Colombia and the United States to see if the U.S. service members can be charged or have immunity.

A police official said the operation that led to the discovery of the munitions and the arrests was purely Colombian, with no U.S. assistance.

Local TV broadcast images of what it said were the two detained Americans, wearing T-shirts and slacks in what appeared to be a police station. The men's backs were to the camera. They were not handcuffed. RCN television identified the two as marksmanship instructors at Tolemaida.

Suspicion of wider conspiracy
Jairo Clopatofsky, a member of the Colombian Senate's foreign relations committee, said he believes the arrested soldiers are part of a broader arms and drugs smuggling ring that may include important U.S. officials.

He said a 31-year-old treaty between Colombia and the United States that gives U.S. military personnel diplomatic immunity is allowing U.S. soldiers to commit crimes here with impunity. He is leading a move to amend the pact so U.S. soldiers who commit crimes in Colombia face jail time here.

"Colombia's hands are tied by this treaty, which prohibits us from bringing any of these U.S. military members to justice," he said.

Castro said police in Carmen de Apicala, 50 miles southwest of Bogota, uncovered the case after they stopped a suspicious man, who offered a bribe to be allowed to go free. Under threat of arrest, the man led the officers to the nearby house where the arms stockpile was stashed.

Couldn’t justify presence
Shortly afterward, the two American soldiers — apparently unaware of the police operation — tried to go to the house, were confronted by police and could not justify their presence.

A security guard at the Paradise complex said in an interview that the two American soldiers were taken away by police and Colombian soldiers in a convoy of a half dozen vehicles.

It marks the latest U.S. embarrassment in this South American nation. On March 29, five U.S. soldiers were arrested after 35 pounds of cocaine was found aboard a U.S. military plane that flew to El Paso, Texas, from the Apiay air base east of Bogota.

The United States has provided more than $3 billion in aid under Plan Colombia. Up to 800 U.S. troops are permitted simultaneously in Colombia, according to U.S. law, to train Colombian armed forces and provide logistical support. Up to 600 Americans are also permitted in the country as U.S. government contractors.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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