Colombia, Venezuela clash over refuge for former rebel leaders

Bogota (AFP) –


Colombian President Ivan Duque accused his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro Monday of committing an act of "stupidity" by offering refuge to two of his country's former left-wing guerrilla leaders.

Maduro angered Duque on Sunday when he said that missing Colombian former FARC rebels Ivan Marquez and Jesus Santrich were "welcome" in Venezuela and that he considered them "leaders of peace."

Bogota has long accused Caracas of harboring guerrillas and drug-traffickers, a charge the Venezuelan authorities deny.

Marquez, whose whereabouts are unknown, was the chief negotiator for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in the historic December 2016 peace accord that ended a half century of armed conflict with the communist rebels.

Santrich disappeared earlier this month after failing to show up in court to testify about an alleged attempt to sell cocaine.

The Colombian Supreme Court has issued an arrest warrant for Santrich and the government has offered an almost $1 million reward for information that leads to his capture.

The country hopes to extradite him to the United States where he is wanted for drug trafficking.

"Once again he (Maduro) has committed an act of stupidity by continuing to protect terrorism," Duque, who is on a state visit to China, said in a presidential statement.

Both Marquez and Santrich, whose real name is Seuxis Paucias Hernandez, were due to take up seats in parliament in July 2018.

Marquez refused to take his seat, accusing the government of Duque's predecessor, Juan Manuel Santos, who signed the accord, of "betrayal" for making changes to the agreement.

Santrich was unable to take his seat while in prison, but after his release finally took the oath last month before then going into hiding.

Duque, who took office last August, was elected on a promise to modify the peace accord, which he considers too lenient to ex-fighters guilty of serious crimes.

Caracas broke off diplomatic relations with Colombia in February over Duque's support for Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido.