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NICARAGUA: Asylum for Survivors of Attack on FARC Camp

José Adán Silva

MANAGUA, May 14 2008 (IPS) - The Nicaraguan government of Daniel Ortega granted asylum to two young Colombian women who survived a Mar. 1 bombing raid by the armed forces of their country on a FARC guerrilla camp in Ecuador.

Doris Torres Bohórquez, 21, and Martha Pérez Gutiérrez, 24, were in the camp when it was bombed. The late-night attack killed 26 people, including the FARC’s (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) international spokesman, Raúl Reyes.

The two women were flown in to Nicaragua on Sunday. Ortega had already given asylum to Lucía Morett, a Mexican university student who also survived the raid, and who arrived here in April.

Four other Mexican students and former students of the Autonomous National University of Mexico were killed in the cross-border incursion ordered by Colombian President Álvaro Uribe.

The attack triggered a major diplomatic crisis, with Ecuador breaking off ties with Colombia, and Venezuela mobilising troops to its border.

The Nicaraguan government also briefly severed relations with Colombia, in solidarity with Ecuador, whose territorial sovereignty had been violated.

Morett, Torres Bohórquez and Pérez Gutiérrez were all injured in the aerial bombing on the FARC camp, and were rescued by the Ecuadorean military and taken to the armed forces hospital in Quito.

Ortega’s wife Rosario Murillo announced on the governing Sandinista National Liberation Front’s (FSLN) radio station that the government “reiterates its decision…to take in, for humanitarian reasons, those who present a well-founded request for the rights and benefits of asylum in Nicaragua in line with the International Convention on Human Rights.”

Murillo added that “the Colombian women have asked for the care indispensable for their complete recovery, and will appear before the press when their health allows them to do so.”

No information was given out on where the women are staying, for safety reasons. It was only reported that Morett was staying at a rural hotel owned by Foreign Minister Samuel Santos on the outskirts of Managua, under police custody.

“Their stay in the country, safety and well-being are private matters,” Deputy Foreign Minister Manuel Coronel Kautz told IPS. “The government is going to respect their right to recover from their injuries, and will not make any more comments on the matter. This is a strictly humanitarian question.”

The FSLN’s international relations secretary, Jacinto Juárez, said his party could not “pronounce itself on the arrival of the Colombian compañeras.”

“The matter falls strictly within the realm of the Foreign Ministry of Nicaragua,” he added.

Citing off-the-record official sources, the Nicaraguan press reported that the two Colombian women arrived on a Nicaraguan air force plane sent to Ecuador from Managua.

The rightwing opposition criticised Ortega for granting asylum to the three women, complaining that the move made Nicaragua “a sanctuary for terrorists.”

The Colombian women had stated in Ecuador that they carried out domestic tasks in the FARC camp.

But rightwing lawmaker José Pallais, chairman of the legislative Justice Committee, insisted that they were “terrorists.”

Pallais argued that “they were involved in drug trafficking and guerrilla activities and belonged to the FARC, and the FARC are considered terrorist forces by Colombia, the United States and the European Union. The group carries out kidnappings for ransom, and kills innocent people. This means they cannot be considered innocent without an investigation.”

Maximino Rodríguez, head of the parliamentary bloc of the Constitutionalist Liberal Party, to which Pallais belongs, said Ortega does not consider the FARC a terrorist group because he feels an “ideological affinity” with it.

“He will never recognise (that it is a terrorist organisation) because he comes from the leftist guerrillas and for them it is normal to back terrorists and call them ‘brother’,” he told IPS, referring to Ortega’s role as one of the top leaders of the Sandinista guerrillas, which toppled the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza in 1979.

Other opposition legislators have called for Foreign Minister Santos to be questioned in parliament.

In the past, Ortega has referred to the members of FARC as “brothers.” And as the leader of the FSLN, he decorated the Colombian rebel group’s chief, Manuel Marulanda, in 1999 in the southern Colombian municipality of San Vicente del Caguán, when that area was demilitarised to create a safe haven for peace talks with the government of Andrés Pastrana (1998-2002).

The director of the non-governmental Institute of Strategic Studies and Public Policies, Javier Meléndez, said Ortega’s decision to grant asylum to the women injured in the attack on the FARC camp was “a political mistake,” given Nicaragua’s need for aid from countries that have included the FARC on their list of terrorist groups.

“My fear is not what they will say about Ortega, but how Nicaragua will be seen abroad,” said Meléndez. “If Ortega is in favour of peace in Colombia, as he has stated, he should call for the release of (French-Colombian FARC hostage) Ingrid Betancourt with the same intensity with which he backs the FARC guerrillas.”

The Colombian Embassy in Managua made no comment on the Nicaraguan government’s decision to grant asylum to the two Colombian women.

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