May 23, 2008
QUITO, Ecuador -- Two Ecuadorean politicians and a Venezuelan lawmaker on Friday denounced a Colombian criminal probe into their alleged ties with the neighboring country's main rebel group, calling it politically motivated and a "witch hunt."
"If it's a crime to have interviewed and gotten to know people from the FARC, let them accuse me - but in Ecuador," said Maria Augusta Calle, a journalist and member of the assembly rewriting the Ecuadorean constitution.
Documents found in laptops belonging to slain rebel commander Raul Reyes indicate Calle may have received financial support from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, Colombian officials have told The Associated Press.
The documents - which Colombia says it seized in a March 1 cross-border raid into Ecuador that killed Reyes and 24 others - also allegedly name Ivan Larrea, a second Ecuadorean placed under preliminary investigation Thursday.
Larrea, a former presidential candidate, called the probe "a witch hunt." In a phone interview with Ecuavisa television, he suggested it is a ploy by Colombia's government to distract attention from an "internal political crisis."
Larrea's brother Gustavo, Ecuador's internal security minister, has acknowledged meeting with Reyes but says it was part of efforts to secure the release of rebel-held hostages. The nature of Ivan Larrea's alleged relations with the FARC was not clear.
Also among nine Colombians and foreigners named Thursday by Colombia's chief prosecutor is Venezuelan Amilcar Figueroa, a member of the Latin American Parliament and ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
Colombian officials contend Figueroa is a rebel operative. One document shown to the AP by Colombian officials says Figueroa visited a Chinese surface-to-air-missile factory and later delivered a catalog to the FARC.
He also has been involved in forming Venezuelan citizens' militias, a senior Colombian official told the AP, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the subject's politically explosive nature.
Documents shown to the AP indicate the FARC was involved in such training, which aimed to protect against a feared U.S. invasion.
In an interview Thursday night with Venezuelan state radio, Figueroa called the investigation a "big lie" and a "sham that aims to distract public attention." An assistant to Figueroa told the AP on Friday that the lawmaker was not available for comment.
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe's government says the documents indicate Chavez was seeking to finance and arm the FARC, while Ecuador's president, Rafael Correa, was seeking close ties. Both presidents deny the charges.
Correa said Friday in Brazil that relations with Colombia are "at a dead point."
He said Colombia should investigate its own politicians' links to drug traffickers and right-wing death squads before probing whether Ecuadoreans have ties to the FARC.
Uribe is grappling with two scandals: More than 30 members of Congress, mostly his allies, have been jailed on charges of colluding with right-wing militias, and three politicians have been arrested on bribery charges in connection with a congressional vote that enabled Uribe's 2006 re-election.
Associated Press writers Frank Bajak in Bogota, Colombia, Vivian Sequera in Brasilia, Brazil, and Fabiola Sanchez in Caracas, Venezuela, contributed to this report.