The brother of a top Colombian guerrilla leader and an Uw’a Indian allegedly working for the rebels are wanted in the deaths of three Americans, Colombian authorities confirmed March 29.
Arrest orders were issued March 25 against German Briceno, a regional commander of Colombia’s oldest and largest guerrilla group, the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, chief prosecutor Alfonso Gomez told a news conference.
The wanted man’s brother, Jorge Briceno, is the FARC’s No. 2 in command.
Also sought by authorities is Gustavo Bokota, a member of the 8,000-member U’wa Indian community. The Americans were seized from the U’wa reservation in eastern Colombia on Jan. 25 before being shot to death a week later just across the border in Venezuela.
Gomez provided no further details on the investigation or whether other arrest orders would be issued in the killings.
The bullet-ridden bodies of Ingrid Washinawatok, 41, of Wisconsin, Lahe’ena’e Gay, 39, of Hawaii, and Terence Freitas, 24, of Los Angeles, were found March 4. They were killed while on a mission to help set up schools for the U’wa, a group that has also fought to keep oil companies off its lands.
The warrant against Briceno was likely to fuel charges of a cover-up by the FARC, which earlier this month attributed the slaying to a rogue, lower-ranking guerrilla acting without the approval of his superiors. The rebels have pledged to punish the perpetrators.
Colombia’s army immediately questioned the FARC’s version, offering the media intercepted radio communications in which German Briceno – the group’s ranking commander in the region – is heard allegedly ordering the killings.
The U’wa have sharply condemned the FARC for the slayings of the Americans. U’wa leaders had invited the Americans onto their 150,000-acre reserve, vouching for their safety in the lawless region where kidnappings are common.
U.S. Ambassador Curtis Kammen on March 26 reiterated Washington’s call for the FARC to turn over any rebels responsible and fully cooperate with the government’s inquiry into the killings.
Until the FARC does so, said Kammen, Washington will be unable to resume contacts with the group which began late-last year as a show of support for the peace process.