Colombia Supreme Court seeks former FARC leader for drug trafficking

Washington (AFP) –


Colombia's Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered the arrest of a former FARC guerrilla leader for alleged drug trafficking, after he became a fugitive for failing to appear in court.

Jesus Santrich, 52, who helped negotiate a 2016 peace deal between FARC and the Colombian government, became a member of the country's Congress under the terms of the peace agreement that saw the guerrilla group transform into a political party.

He was arrested in April 2018 before he could take his seat on a United States extradition request for alleged drug trafficking, but freed in May on orders of the Colombian Supreme Court.

On Tuesday, Santrich, who has been missing since June 30, failed to appear in court to testify about an alleged attempt to sell cocaine after having signed the peace accord in 2016.

The Supreme Court issued the order for his apprehension and requested assistance from Interpol.

Colombian President Ivan Duque -- who came to power promising under US pressure to modify the 2016 peace accord, which he sees as too lenient on the former rebels -- said the search for Santrich would be "relentless."

Washington is seeking him for the same charges, though the former FARC leader has declared himself innocent, insisting the US charges were part of a plot.

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

The peace deal, which was agreed by former Colombia president Juan Manuel Santos with the FARC, stipulated that former guerrillas who commit crimes after the pact was signed be tried in a normal court and lose the benefits afforded by the accord, such as a ban on extradition.

The accusations against Santrich crucially date from June 2017 to April 2018, after the peace accord was signed.