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Foreigners' ties to Colombian rebels probed

Colombia's chief prosecutor said Thursday that he was opening preliminary investigations into the contacts a U.S. consultant and three other foreigners have had with leftist rebels.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Colombia’s chief prosecutor opened preliminary investigations Thursday into contacts that prominent politicians, journalists and foreigners — including a U.S. consultant — have had with leftist rebels.

The prosecutor, Mario Iguaran, also asked the Supreme Court to probe three opposition lawmakers including Sen. 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 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, the FARC’s foreign minister. The prosecutor did not specify what charges any of those under investigation might face.

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

American says investigation of him 'ludicrous'
The foreigners placed under investigation Thursday include two Ecuadoreans, a Venezuelan and American alternative development expert James C. Jones, who has been working with Democrats in the U.S. Congress.

Jones told The Associated Press on Thursday that he considers the investigation of him “ludicrous.”

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

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

The Venezuelan placed under investigation Thursday is Amilkar Figueroa, a Chavez ally and member of the Parlamento Latino whom Colombian officials have privately called a FARC operative. One document shown to the AP 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 Ecuadoreans 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 cell phone.

'Trying to stop this bloody war'
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 told the AP 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.

Senator Cordoba was not available for comment. Her close ties to Venezuelan President Chavez — and her appearance in group photos with FARC leaders — have upset conservative Colombians who overwhelmingly back Uribe’s efforts to defeat the FARC militarily with billions of dollars in U.S. aid.

The other two Colombian lawmakers under investigation are Sen. Gloria Ines Ramirez and Rep. Wilson Borja, a former union leader who survived a 2000 assassination attempt by a right-wing death squad.