Colombia arrests 10 over attacks on Duque’s helicopter, military base

The mark of a projectile impact is seen on a helicopter that Colombian President Ivan Duque was traveling in, after it suffered an attack during an overflight, according to authorities, in Cucuta
FILE PHOTO: The mark of a projectile impact is seen on a helicopter that Colombian President Ivan Duque was traveling in, after it suffered an attack during an overflight, according to authorities, in Cucuta, Colombia June 25, 2021. Colombia Presidency/Handout via REUTERS

July 22, 2021

By Oliver Griffin

BOGOTA (Reuters) -Colombia has arrested 10 people accused of involvement in attacks on a helicopter carrying President Ivan Duque and a military base last month that officials said on Thursday were planned by former FARC rebel leaders based in Venezuela.

The car bombing at the base in the northeastern city of Cucuta, home to the army’s 30th Brigade, wounded 44 people, including two U.S. military advisers. Later in June, a helicopter approaching the city with Duque and other officials aboard was strafed by bullets.

The 10 people captured in Norte de Santander province are former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels who reject a 2016 peace deal, Attorney General Francisco Barbosa said in a news conference broadcast via social media, and belong to the dissidents’ 33rd front.

Three of them took part in the planning and execution of both attacks and have been detained and charged, while another is a retired army captain, Barbosa said.

Orders to carry out the attacks came from former FARC leaders who are operating from Venezuela, Defense Minister Diego Molano said during the news conference.

Molano said the attacks demonstrated that the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro sheltered FARC dissidents, referring to them as “terrorists.”

“It’s clear that this attack against the president, against the 30th Brigade, was planned from Venezuela,” Molano said.

Colombia’s government has long accused Maduro of turning a blind eye to the presence of Colombian rebels on his country’s territory. Maduro, in turn, has said Venezuela is a victim of criminals from Colombia.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza responded on Twitter, accusing Molano of pointing at Venezuela in an effort to distract from Colombia’s internal problems.

“Once again they use Venezuela to try to hide the tragedy of their country,” he said, adding that Colombia was riddled with violence and armed groups, with an economy reliant on drug trafficking.

(Reporting by Oliver Griffin in BogotaAdditional reporting by Vivian Sequera in CaracasEditing by Joe Bavier and Paul Simao)