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Colombia's Supreme Court frees ex-FARC leader sought by US

Juan Barreto, AFP | Colombian FARC Political Party member Jesus Santrich (L) greets supporters after being released at the Party's headquarters in Bogota May 30 , 2019.

A former FARC guerrilla leader was freed Thursday on orders of the Colombian Supreme Court, drawing an expression of regret from the United States, which wanted him for alleged drug trafficking.

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Jesus Santrich, who was arrested in April, 2018, walked free from the attorney general's headquarters under a heavy escort, his lawyer, Gustavo Gallado told reporters.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered Santrich's immediate release on grounds that he was protected by parliamentary immunity as a member of Congress.

Santrich, who helped negotiate a 2016 peace between the FARC and the state, became a member of Congress for the FARC under the terms of the peace agreement.

He was arrested on a US extradition request before he could take his seat.

The Supreme Court has assumed control of the case, and in a letter Thursday, Santrich assured the court he was at its disposition.

In Washington, a State Department spokeswoman criticized his release.

"As goes for any thriving democracy like Colombia, we respect the decision of the court," the spokeswoman, Morgan Ortagus, said.

"But we do find this decision regrettable. The United States has complied with the requirements for extradition as established with Colombia," she said.

"And the charges against him, as I'm sure you're aware, are very severe, conspiring to ship over 10,000 kilos of cocaine."

Santrich, 52, had previously been ordered released by a justice of the peace who is investigating major crimes committed during the FARC's insurgency.

He was re-arrested as he was leaving prison on orders of a judge on new charges related to the US allegations of cocaine trafficking.

The case has provoked an uproar in Colombia, which is deeply divided over the 2016 peace pact to end a half century of armed conflict.

Under US pressure, President Ivan Duque, who came to power promising to modify the peace accord he sees as too lenient on the rebels, has reaffirmed his intention to extradite Santrich.

The former FARC leader has declared himself innocent of the US charges, insisting they were part of a plot by Washington and the Colombian prosecutors.

(AFP)

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