Colombian attorney general resigns over FARC ex-commander case

Published 16.05.2019 01:55

Colombia's attorney general resigned on Wednesday over the decision of the country's post-conflict justice system not to allow the extradition of a former FARC commander to the United States, as increasing tensions threaten to undermine the country's peace process.

Former FARC commander Seuxis Hernandez, known as Jesus Santrich, was arrested in April 2018 on charges of drug trafficking.

The Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) on Wednesday ordered his release, saying it did not have sufficient evidence against him. The US had previously declined to provide such evidence.

Attorney General Nestor Humberto Martinez accused the JEP of ignoring evidence against Santrich and said its decision "exposes our society to crime" and destroys judicial cooperation with other countries.

Martinez' deputy, Maria Paulina Riveros, also stepped down. The resignations prompted President Ivan Duque to return from the city of Medellin to Bogota, where he was due to make a statement.

The Santrich case has been at the centre of the government's disagreements with the JEP, which handles crimes related to Colombia's 52-year armed conflict with FARC, and which Duque regards as being too lenient on the rebels.

The JEP was created after Duque's predecessor, Juan Manuel Santos, signed a peace deal with FARC in 2016. About 7,000 fighters subsequently handed over their weapons and FARC was turned into a political party.

The JEP's decision on Santrich was seen as a blow to Duque, a close US ally, who wants to modify the functioning of the transitional justice system to facilitate the extradition of former militants. The inspector general's office said it would appeal the decision.

Duque's hawkish Democratic Centre party has been critical of the peace process, and the president's critics say he does not have a real will to peace.

Earlier on Wednesday, FARC accused the government of not protecting the lives of former rebels, saying more than 140 of them had been killed since the peace agreement was signed.

Duque had ignored requests from FARC for a meeting, FARC leader Rodrigo Londono said at a press conference. FARC representatives blamed the killings on far-right sectors and paramilitary groups.

The party raised the issue of the killings one day after one of its former commanders, Jorge Enrique Corredor Gonzalez, known as Wilson Saavedra, was shot dead while having lunch at a restaurant in the city of Tulua in western Valle del Cauca department.

Duque on Wednesday condemned Saavedra's assassination and said he had ordered the authorities to track the killers down.

Saavedra's death followed that of Dimar Torres, a demobilized FARC militant whose body was found, with signs of torture, on April 22 in the department of Norte de Santander near the Venezuelan border.

Defence Minister Guillermo Botero initially said Torres had tried to disarm a soldier and was accidentally killed in the struggle that followed. But an army general later admitted that soldiers had executed Torres.

The affair sparked calls on Botero to resign, and the opposition is preparing to challenge the minister in Congress.

Paramilitary groups, which FARC accuses of being behind the killings, sometimes cooperate with security forces, according to NGOs observing political violence.

Paramilitary groups have also been linked to the Democratic Centre and other conservative politicians on the local and national levels.

In addition, ex-militants are believed to have been assassinated by other armed groups and drug traffickers seeking control over areas that FARC withdrew from.

"Without doubt, there are sectors that want to take the Peace Agreement to a crossroads which could open up a new cycle of violence," FARC said in a Wednesday statement.

Armed conflict in Colombia has left more than 260,000 people dead since 1958, according to the governmental National Centre for Historical Memory. Over 7 million people have been displaced.

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