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Former FARC leader in Colombia fails to show up in court in drug-trafficking case

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Former FARC leader in Colombia fails to show up in court in drug-trafficking case
FILE PHOTO: A former commander of the Marxist FARC rebel group Seuxis Paucias Hernandez, known by his war alias as Jesus Santrich arrives at the court complex of Paloquemao in Bogota, Colombia May 20, 2019. REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez/File Photo   -   Copyright  Luisa Gonzalez(Reuters)
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By Luis Jaime Acosta

BOGOTA (Reuters) – A missing former FARC rebel commander-turned-lawmaker who helped negotiate Colombia’s 2016 peace deal failed to show up in court on Tuesday to face questioning over U.S. drug-trafficking charges, a fresh blow to the landmark agreement.

The government of Colombian President Ivan Duque called for the Supreme Court of Justice to issue an immediate arrest warrant for Seuxis Paucias Hernandez, better known in Colombia by his war alias Jesus Santrich.

Less than a month ago, Hernandez became one of 10 former FARC rebels to become lawmakers under the peace deal, which allowed the FARC to form a political party as part of efforts to end the country’s half-century-long conflict that has left 260,000 dead.

Hernandez, 52, is not currently sought by authorities and is free to move about within Colombia’s borders. But Duque accused Hernandez of evading his duties by fleeing after he abandoned his state-issued bodyguards on June 30 in a reincorporation area for ex-combatants near the border with Venezuela.

He has not been seen in public since then.

At least three other former FARC leaders have also gone missing since last year, following the arrests of Hernandez and the nephew of another former commander. The nephew is collaborating with the United States about an alleged plot to sell cocaine to Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel.

Hernandez was later released from prison, re-arrested and released again by the Supreme Court.

The United States has sought Hernandez’ extradition on drug-trafficking charges he denies. He was summoned to appear in court on Tuesday to help determine whether he should be held in jail while the extradition request is evaluated.

Hernandez’ lawyer, Eduardo Matias, said he was unaware of his whereabouts.

“There’s a public lynching by the executive branch and the U.S. embassy,” Matias told crowds of reporters waiting outside the closed-door courtroom hearing.

The United States has accused Hernandez of helping to export 10 tonnes of cocaine worth $320 million to the United States.

“I think what’s called for to bring trust and tranquility to the country… is for them to dictate an order for his capture,” said Emilio Archila, Duque’s adviser on the peace deal.

Under the 2016 peace deal, signed by former President Juan Manuel Santos, 13,000 former FARC combatants were allowed to reintegrate into society, dividing the country between those who support their entry into politics and those who want them to pay for crimes committed during the conflict.

(Reporting By Luis Jaime Acosta, Writing By Mitra Taj; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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