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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Colombia asks Spain to Deport fugitive lawmaker

Colombia asked Spain to deport a fugitive congressman who is wanted for possible links with illegal paramilitaries in a widening scandal involving allies of President Alvaro Uribe.

Eight pro-Uribe lawmakers have been jailed and other army officers, governors and congressmen are under investigation for their suspected ties to paramilitaries, who are accused of atrocities during their dirty war against a rebel insurgency.

Bogota has asked Spanish authorities to send back Rep Jorge Luis Caballero who was among a group of lawmakers ordered detained by the Supreme Court on February 15 as part of its probe into the scandal.

''The foreign ministry has information he is in Spain and Colombia has presented a request to the government that he be deported back to our country,'' Deputy Foreign Minister Camilo Reyes told reporters yesterday.

The scandal intensified just weeks before US President George W Bush was scheduled to visit Uribe, Washington's closest ally in Latin America and a linchpin for US counter-narcotics initiatives in the region.

The Bush administration wants Congress to approve another 3.9 billion dollars in anti-drug aid to Colombia, but some of the Democrats who now control the Congress are concerned about how deeply paramilitary influence burrows into the Uribe administration.

Colombia's Foreign Minister Maria Consuelo Araujo resigned last week after her brother, a senator, was jailed and prosecutors considered investigating her father. Uribe's former security chief was also arrested on charges he aided paramilitaries.

The lawmakers are facing charges they aided, financed or organized illegal armed groups often in exchange for benefiting from paramilitary intimidation and influence at the ballot box.

The paramilitaries were set up in the 1980s by rich landowners to protect themselves from rebels, but more than 30,000 militia fighters have given up their arms in a peace deal with Uribe in exchange for short prison terms.

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