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Ex-rebel leader’s arrest puts Colombia peace on edge

The Associated Press

Supporters of former FARC rebel Jesus Santrich protest his arrest on Monday outside the Attorney General Office where he is being held in Bogota.

The Associated PressBOGOTA (AP) — When Colombia’s largest rebel army turned over its weapons as part of a 2016 peace deal, its leaders vowed to walk away from a lucrative cocaine business that had fueled its war on the state decades after similar leftist insurgencies elsewhere in Latin America died off.

But the arrest of a high-ranking rebel leader on a U.S. drug trafficking warrant has many Colombians wondering whether the former guerrillas have betrayed their pledge.

A day after the arrest of Seuxis Hernandez, best known by his alias Jesus Santrich, conservative opponents of the peace accord, including the front-running presidential candidate, urged authorities to investigate other members of the disbanded FARC rebel army for any continued involvement in the drug trade.

“The message should be clear: Those with criminal ties should pay,” presidential hopeful Ivan Duque said.

Meanwhile, ex-FARC combatants accused U.S. and Colombian officials of orchestrating a set-up against Santrich and warned it likely will sow further skepticism among former rebels already doubtful that the government will follow through on its end of the peace accord.

“It generates alarm,” said FARC leader Griselda Lobo, alias Sandra Ramirez. “But we are calling on people to think with a cool head.”

A U.S. indictment accuses Santrich and three others of conspiring to distribute 10 metric tons of cocaine with a wholesale value of $15 million in the United States and purporting to have access to drug labs and U.S.-registered planes for transport. U.S. officials allege the criminal activity began last year, after the established cutoff date giving most rebels immunity from war crimes.

The arrest makes Santrich the first high-ranking leader in the peace process to be charged with criminal activity, and analysts said it is likely to have a range of implications for the nation’s already fragile implementation of the historic accord. Some worry Santrich’s potential extradition could push already hesitant rank-and-file ex-combatants into the hands of criminal gangs.Speech

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