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Colombia in extradition quandary over lawmaker arrested in Venezuela

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Bogota (AFP)

Colombia said Tuesday it would seek the extradition of a fugitive former lawmaker arrested in Venezuela, though it faces a legal conundrum as it refuses to recognize President Nicolas Maduro's government.

Former Colombian congresswoman Aida Merlano was arrested by Venezuelan security forces on Monday in the northwestern city of Maracaibo after illegally crossing into Venezuela.

Merlano was serving a 15-year prison sentence for vote buying when she staged a spectacular escape in October after giving her guards the slip while visiting a dentist.

"When the competent judge requests the extradition of Mrs Aida Merlano, the national government will make the request before the legitimate government of Venezuela, headed by Juan Guaido," a government statement said.

President Ivan Duque's right-wing government is one of more than 50 countries to recognize Guaido as interim president. Venezuela broke off relations with Bogota in February 2019, after Guaido's failed attempt to breach a border blockade and bring US food and medical aid into the country through Colombia.

Maduro remains in control of all state institutions in Venezuela, with the exception of the opposition-dominated but sidelined National Assembly, which is led by Guaido. The real legislative power in the country lies with the Maduro-controlled Constituent Assembly.

During a visit to a medical center in Bogota to see a dentist on October 1, Merlano managed to slip away from her escorts, climb out a window, and slide down a rope, landing on the sidewalk in front of surprised passersby before calmly escaping on the back of a waiting motorcycle.

A video of her daring escape shot by a nearby security camera went viral on social media.

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