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Page last updated at 08:57 GMT, Thursday, 10 July 2008 09:57 UK

US requests rebels' extradition

Captured farc rebels Gerardo Antonio Aguilar Ramirez (left) and Alexander Farfan Suarez (right) shown in custody on 3 July
The two rebels are being held at a high-security prison in Bogota

The US has formally asked Colombia to extradite two Farc rebels captured during last week's military rescue of 15 hostages, including three Americans.

The rebels, Gerardo Antonio Aguilar, alias Cesar, and Alexander Farfan, known as Gafas, are accused of crimes related to kidnapping and terrorism.

The Colombian government has already indicated it will support the request.

Opinion polls suggest the rescue has boosted President Alvaro Uribe's already high approval ratings to 85%.

The two Farc guerrillas were detained during the 2 July operation that freed the hostages.

Their full names are Gerardo Antonio Aguilar Ramirez and Alexander Farfan Suarez.

They face charges of belonging to a terrorist group and holding hostages, among them US defence contractors Marc Gonsalves, Thomas Howes and Keith Stansell, who were captured in 2003 after their plane crashed in the Colombian jungle.

The other freed hostages included French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt and 11 soldiers.

The rebels' lawyer, Eduardo Matias, said the extradition request should be opposed.

"The crime imputed to the two was committed on Colombian territory, so it should be Colombian courts that judge them," Mr Matias was quoted as saying by the AFP news agency.

'Clouds'

The extradition request will now pass through the Colombian courts before finally going to President Uribe, who has already made it clear he will approve it. .

President Alvaro Uribe celebrates his 56th birthday on 4 July
The rescue came as a birthday boost for President Uribe

Several Farc leaders area already in US custody and some 50 others are wanted for drug-trafficking.

In May, Colombia extradited 15 former paramilitary leaders to the US to face drug charges.

Mr Uribe is meanwhile basking in national and international praise for the release of French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt and the other 14 hostages, says the BBC's Jeremy McDermott in Colombia.

The president may be tempted to use his immense popularity to try to change the constitution again to allow him to stand for a third term in office, our correspondent says.

But there are several clouds on the horizon. Some 60 politicians, most of them Mr Uribe's supporters, have been investigated or indicted for links to paramilitaries.

The economy is also showing severe strain, with unemployment and inflation rising.

Our correspondent adds that if the Farc rebels - who still number around 9,000 and can count on funding thanks to the drugs trade - were able to resume attacks in urban areas, Colombians might be ready to opt for a leader more willing to make peace.


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