Arrest warrant issued for Farc ex-rebel Jesús Santrich

Latin America (HRNW): An arrest warrant has been issued for Colombian former rebel turned lawmaker Jesús Santrich after he failed to show up to court in relation to drug smuggling charges. Colombia’s supreme court has ordered Santrich’s capture after he disappeared on Sunday. He is alleged to have helped smuggle a large quantity of cocaine into the US, to where he faces possible extradition. Santrich, 52, denies the charges and says they are part of a conspiracy. The court case on Tuesday was to help decide whether Santrich should be detained while his US extradition is under review. Only Santrich’s lawyer turned up and said he did not know the whereabouts of his client, who is accused of smuggling 10 tonnes of cocaine into the US in 2017.

Santrich’s son said he feared his father may have been kidnapped or killed but Colombian President Iván Duque said Santrich was trying to elude justice. In 2016, Colombia agreed a peace deal to end 50 years of conflict. As part of the agreement, 10 former rebel commanders became lawmakers, including Santrich, otherwise known as Seuxis Paucias Hernandez. For 30 years he was a commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc), a Marxist rebel group that engaged in a five-decade-long armed struggle against government forces and right-wing paramilitaries. Santrich had been staying in a reintegration zone in Cesar province, about 30km (20 miles) from the Venezuelan border. Like other high-profile former rebels and public figures in Colombia, Santrich had bodyguards assigned to him by the national protection unit.

Members of the unit reported on Sunday that Santrich was not in the house where he had been staying. In his room, they found a note saying he would stay with one of his younger sons in the city of Valledupar. He added that he did not “want a crowd” at his son’s house and left instructions to be picked up and a contact name. Colombia’s protection unit said it was trying to verify the authenticity of the note. There has been much speculation in Colombian media, with many pointing to neighbouring Venezuela as a possible destination. Venezuela’s socialist government is not on good terms with Mr Duque’s conservative Columbian government and would be very unlikely to hand over Santrich if he was found, these publications point out. The border between the two countries is porous and left-wing rebels regularly move across it undetected. Santrich is not the first former Farc leader to disappear. The whereabouts of three other key figures are also unknown. The most senior of the three, Iván Márquez, appeared in a video in January accusing the government of betraying the terms of the peace agreement.

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