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The BBC's Jeremy McDermott
"The entire peace process could be in jeopardy"
 real 28k

Monday, 23 April, 2001, 10:24 GMT 11:24 UK
Colombia probes rebel 'drugs links'
Members of a U.S. trained anti-drug battalion
US trains most Colombian anti-narcotics troops
A notorious Brazilian drugs baron has been paraded on Colombian television with members of the country's largest rebel group, FARC, renewing controversy over allegations of rebel involvement in the drugs trade.

Luis Fernando Da Costa, Brazil's most wanted drugs trafficker and his two accomplices - bodyguards provided by FARC - were captured on Saturday after a month-long manhunt in the jungle involving fighter planes and thousands of troops.

The FARC is going to have to demonstrate to the world that it is not dedicated to drug trafficking

Colombian President Andres Pastrana
Colombian police are investigating allegations of links between Da Costa and the left-wing rebels.

President Andres Pastrana has called on the guerrillas to prove they are not drug dealers and so save the country's battered peace process.

The rebels insist they only tax drug production, but evidence gathered during the hunt for Da Costa appears to indicate he was supplying arms to the FARC in exchange for cocaine.

Da Costa denies having any ties with FARC.

The BBC's Jeremy McDermott says that, if such links were proved, it would show the guerrillas were processing and exporting drugs and were therefore drugs traffickers.

That would put the entire peace process between the Colombian Government and the FARC in jeopardy, as President Pastrana has maintained he will never negotiate with drug dealers.

Military aid

"Otherwise there will not be any international support for the peace process," Mr Pastrana said.

President Andres Pastrana
Andres Pastrana: No negotiations with drugs dealers
The FARC says it only raises money through levying a tax on peasants who grow coca plants - from which cocaine is made. It denies operating as a drug cartel.

Washington is providing hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to train Colombian anti-narcotics troops who operate in rebel-dominated areas.

Brazilian Justice Minister Jose Gregori said on Sunday his government would seek Da Costa's extradition.

But it is unclear whether Colombia will want to hand him over.

Drugs complex

Our correspondent says the Colombians are likely to use the case to argue for greater United States backing in their war against the country's rebels.

Da Costa was captured two days after the plane in which he was travelling was forced to make an emergency landing by the Colombian air force.

The drug trafficker allegedly once controlled much of the narcotics trade in Rio de Janeiro, but moved his operations to Colombia after he escaped from a Brazilian prison in 1996.

The Colombian security forces had been searching for him since February, when an army operation codenamed "black cat" uncovered a massive drugs complex in the Colombian jungle near the Brazilian border.

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See also:

22 Apr 01 | Americas
Colombia arrests 'drug lord'
29 Mar 01 | Americas
Hidden costs of Plan Colombia
15 Feb 01 | Americas
Thousands flee Colombian violence
10 Feb 01 | Americas
Colombia peace talks to resume
22 Jan 01 | Americas
Fight against drugs makes headway
14 Jan 01 | Americas
Eyewitness: Inside a cocaine factory
28 Mar 01 | Americas
Colombia frustrated by EU aid
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