High-ranking Colombian FARC rebel captured in Ecuador

QUITO, Ecuador, and BOGOTA, Colombia --  An Ecuadorean judge on Tuesday ordered the indefinite jailing of a suspected Colombian rebel leader captured a day earlier by Ecuadorean forces just a few miles from the border.

Wilson Tapiero, the alleged financial chief of the 48th Front of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, was captured near the spot where Colombian commandos briefly invaded in 2008 to kill the FARC's second-ranking leader.

Three men and three women were also arrested on a farm in northeastern Ecuador.  Army units also recovered arms, motorcycles, uniforms and FARC literature.

Army Col. Arturo Coral said the purpose of the suspected rebels’ presence and activities was unknown, although the Colombian rebel group has been known to use lightly patrolled Ecuadorean border jungle areas as sanctuaries from pursuit by the Colombian military.

In March 2008, Colombian military commandos briefly crossed one mile into Ecuadorean territory and killed the FARC's then second in command, alias Raul Reyes, and 24 others. The incident nearly led to war as Ecuador and Venezuela called up military units to their borders with Colombia.

Coral said that armed forces had been tracking Tapiero, and he added that others are in his sights: "We hope in coming days to detain people who are [negatively] affecting Ecuadorean society."

The FARC is suspected by Colombian and U.S. counternarcotics officials of engaging in drug trafficking, assassinations and extortion on both sides of the border area, especially as Ecuador's importance in drug routes increases.

A civil court will decide whether to deport Tapiero, who is also wanted by Interpol, Coral said.

Since the tense days after the Reyes killing, military cooperation between Colombia and Ecuador along their 450-mile border has improved and Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa has promised not to knowingly allow rebels a haven in his country. Colombia in turn has responded to Ecuadorean complaints that the border is lightly patrolled by beefing up its armed forces’ presence.

Among the high-ranking FARC rebels caught in recent years in Ecuador was Simón Trinidad, who in 2004 was captured in Quito and extradited to Colombia and then to the United States, where he was convicted on drug and terrorism charges.

In March, Ecuadorean antinarcotics police arrested former FARC-rebel-turned-drug-trafficker Juan Carlos Calle Serna in Quito after being tipped off by Colombian police.

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-- Cristina Munoz in Quito and Chris Kraul in Bogota

 
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