Associated Press | 7/17/2009 12:00:00 AM
AP Newsbreak: Rebel video hounds Ecuador's Correa
BOGOTA — An hour-long video police found in a computer of an alleged rebel appears to confirm that Colombia's largest rebel army gave money to the 2006 election campaign of President Rafael Correa of Ecuador.
The video, given to The Associated Press by a government official on condition of anonymity due to political sensitivity, adds weight to evidence found in a half-dozen electronic documents recovered at a rebel camp destroyed in a cross-border raid last year. Correa has accused Colombia of fabricating the documents, despite an investigation by the global police agency Interpol that determined they were not altered.
The same rebel manifesto turned up on a different rebel computer recovered in October. But in the video it is read aloud by Jorge Briceno, a member of the FARC's ruling secretariat and No. 2 commander, which will make it harder to deny.
Ties between Colombia and neighboring Ecuador are deeply frayed, and the video is sure to complicate relations further. Colombia is outraged that the FARC, a leftist group on the U.S. State Department's terror list, was operating out of Ecuador, allegedly with the support of that country's leftist government. The State Department had no comment on the video.
Ecuador broke diplomatic ties after Colombia crossed into its territory last year to raid the rebel camp. Attempts by the Organization of American States and the Carter Center to mediate the dispute have been stymied.
Told of the video Friday, Ecuador's security minister, Miguel Carvajal, denied that Correa's government had "any relation in the campaign or has any relation with or contributions from groups such as the FARC, and certainly no type of accord." Correa himself has repeatedly denied any ties to FARC.
The video was found on a computer seized May 30 in the Bogota home of a suspected FARC operative, and finally decrypted last week. A senior Colombian prosecutor, anti-terrorism unit chief Hermes Ardila, confirmed that the video was found on one of three computers seized in the arrest of Adela Perez, 36 — "the secretariat's key player in Bogota."
It shows Briceno reading from a laptop perched on a roughhewn shelf to about 250 somber-looking rebels in a jungle clearing.
Briceno first informs the troops of Marulanda's death and of changes in the rebel leadership. He reads from a missive from someone present when Marulanda died on March 26, 2008, at age 78, of an apparent heart attack.
"We awake today with an immense solitude, so very sad. The comrade died yesterday, the 26th, at 18:20 hours," Briceno reads.
The faces of his young audience are grim. They look dumbstruck, distressed. At one point, Briceno pauses briefly and says, "What was that sound? A bomb?" He gets a negative reply from off camera.
Briceno then turns to the sobering letter Marulanda wrote just days before his death. The letter stresses the strategic importance of "maintaining good political relations, friendship and confidence with the governments of Venezuela and Ecuador."
It is a grave reflection on devastating blows the FARC has suffered at the hands of the military in Colombia, which has received more than $4 billion in U.S. aid since 2000. It describes the "trophies of war" Colombia obtained when it killed the rebels' foreign minister, Raul Reyes, and 24 other people in a March 1, 2008 raid on his jungle camp inside Ecuador.
Marulanda laments that Colombia seized a trove of electronic documents that badly compromised the rebels and their foreign friends — namely, Correa and President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.
"The secrets of the FARC have been lost completely," Briceno reads.
Among those secrets is "assistance in dollars to Correa's campaign and subsequent conversations with his emissaries," the letter said. It mentions "some agreements, according to documents in the possession of all of us, that are very compromising regarding our ties with friends."
Marulanda's letter does not say whether Correa personally knew of the money, and does not mention an amount. But it supports four other documents the Colombian government says it found on Reyes' laptop that were allegedly written in late 2006 by FARC leaders discussing rebel payments of at least $100,000 to Correa's campaign.
It appears unlikely that the video could be fake. AP video experts found no signs of tampering. Also, Briceno is a known FARC leader with whom AP reporters had frequent contact from 1999-2002, and it is clearly him in the video.
The Ecuadorean minister, Carvajal, told the AP that if the video is proven to be authentic, his government will want to know who the supposed emissaries are that established ties with the FARC "in the name of the (Correa) electoral campaign."
Correa strongly denies receiving money from the FARC. He has argued that Reyes' computer equipment could never have survived bombs that ripped apart his jungle camp.
Despite revelations about ties to FARC, Correa was re-elected in April by a comfortable margin. Correa this month imposed stiff import tariffs on a broad range of Colombian goods including autos and beef, which will seriously affect Bogota's $500 million in annual exports to Ecuador.
The video, separated into 20 files on a Sony Vaio laptop, took more than a month to decrypt before the code was cracked July 10, said several government officials who spoke on condition they not be identified due to the matter's sensitivity.
The laptop's owner, Perez, is jailed on charges of terrorism and criminal conspiracy, as the alleged leader of an urban cell engaged in extortion and bombings in the capital, Ardila said.
The other two laptops found in her home contained intelligence on senior government officials, including Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, national police director Gen. Oscar Naranjo and Juan Manuel Santos, who as defense minister managed the raid into Ecuador, the officials added.
An Ecuadorean prosecutor last month issued an arrest warrant for Santos on murder charges. Interpol refused, however, to circulate the warrant. Colombia's government says it has no intention of handing over Santos.
The Marulanda letter also was found on a laptop seized in a raid on a rebel camp in Putumayo state near the Ecuadorean border on Oct. 31, according to Colombian authorities. The AP obtained a copy of the letter the following month.
Associated Press Writer Libardo Cardona contributed to this report.
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