Colombia arrests 2 U.S. soldiers in ammunition trafficking plot
BOGOTA, Colombia – Colombian police arrested two U.S. soldiers for alleged involvement in a plot to traffic thousands of rounds of ammunition – possibly to outlawed right-wing paramilitary groups, authorities said yesterday.
The two soldiers were detained during a raid Tuesday on a house in a gated community in Carmen de Apicala, southwest of the capital and near Colombia's sprawling Tolemaida air base, where many U.S. soldiers are stationed.
National Police chief Gen. Jorge Daniel Castro said the two U.S. Army soldiers, whose names and ranks were not disclosed, were arrested at the house where a large cache of ammunition was discovered and that three Colombians were also involved.
The Colombian attorney general's office said the arrested U.S. soldiers had been in contact with a former Colombian police sergeant linked to paramilitary groups. The former policeman was also arrested, a spokeswoman for the attorney general said.
The cache was composed of 32,000 rounds of ammunition sent to Colombia by the United States under its Plan Colombia aid program, aimed at crushing a leftist insurgency and the drug trafficking that fuels it, the attorney general's spokeswoman said on condition of anonymity.
The U.S. Embassy confirmed the arrests but declined to comment on any possible link between the case and the outlawed right-wing paramilitary groups, who are battling leftist rebels in Colombia. The U.S. government has branded the paramilitary umbrella group, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, as a terrorist organization, along with the two rebel groups.
The attorney general's office has formally opened an investigation into arms trafficking against those arrested and is studying treaties between Colombia and the United States to see if the U.S. service members can be charged or have immunity.
A police official said the operation that led to the discovery of the munitions and the arrests was purely Colombian, with no U.S. assistance.
The two U.S. soldiers were being held by Colombian authorities near Carmen de Apicala. Local TV broadcast images of what it said were the two detained Americans. RCN television identified the two as marksmanship instructors at Tolemaida.
Jairo Clopatofsky, a member of the Colombian Senate's foreign relations committee, said he believes the arrested soldiers are part of a broader arms and drugs smuggling ring that may include important U.S. officials.
He said a 31-year-old treaty between Colombia and the United States that gives U.S. military personnel diplomatic immunity is allowing U.S. soldiers to commit crimes here with impunity. He is leading a move to amend the pact so that U.S. soldiers who commit crimes in Colombia face jail time here.