UPDATE 1-Colombia probes reported military spying of peace negotiators

Tue Feb 4, 2014 12:56pm EST

(Recasts, adds comment from President Santos)
    By Helen Murphy
    BOGOTA, Feb 4 (Reuters) - Colombia's President Juan Manuel
Santos ordered an investigation into the apparent spying of his
negotiating team at peace talks with Marxist FARC rebels and
suggested that "dark forces" were trying to sabotage his bid to
end five decades of war.   
    Military intelligence operatives intercepted cellular phone
communications of the government's representatives at talks with
the FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, weekly news
magazine Semana reported on Tuesday.
    Peace negotiations with the FARC began in November 2012,
weeks after Santos announced he had been holding secret
discussions with rebel leaders. News of the talks was leaked
prior to Santos' historic announcement.
    "It's not acceptable from any point of view that
intelligence is conducted against ordinary citizens and much
less against state officials," said Santos, calling those behind
the spying "dark forces" and "loose wheels." 
    "It's totally unacceptable."
     The peace negotiations - underway in Cuba - have surfaced
as a campaign issue ahead of elections in May in which Santos is
running for reelection.
    Semana, a prestigious investigative magazine, said the
cellular phones of negotiators Humberto de la Calle, Sergio
Jaramillo and Alejandro Eder were intercepted, as well as
leftist politicians, like former Senator Piedad Cordoba.
     Data from text messages were collected, but telephone calls
were not listened to, it reported. The espionage was conducted
from a Bogota restaurant and adjoining Internet center set up as
front for the operation.
    The government peace talks with the FARC leadership are
conducted in secrecy, which both sides have held to, except for
brief communiqu├ęs about their progress.
    This is the first spy scandal to emerge since the government
intelligence agency known as the DAS was shut down after
revelations of wire-tapping during the government of former
President Alvaro Uribe.
    "My hand hasn't wavered in the fight against the illegal use
of intelligence," said Santos, who as Uribe's defense minister
called for the spy agency to be shuttered.
    The government and FARC have fought for five decades leaving
more than 200,000 dead and millions displaced.
    The peace talks, while mostly popular, have some detractors,
like Uribe and his party's choice as candidate for president in
May, Oscar Ivan Zuluaga.
    Uribe denied any involvement in the spying and called any
media suggestion that he was behind it, an "infamy" and "smoke
screen." 
    The aim of the intelligence operation, code named
"Andromeda," was to garner as much information as possible about
what was being discussed at the talks in Havana, according to a
source cited by Semana.
    Commenting on the report, Interior Minister Aurelio Iragorri
said, "The most important is to carry out an internal
investigation because this government at no time - no minister
or the president - has given any instructions to interfere with
communications of anyone."
    "In this case we are more the victims than the victimizer,"
he added.
    Semana said it spent 15 months investigating the spying and
spoke to as many as 25 sources before publishing.
    
    For a link to the Semana story, please see URL:
    here

 (Additional reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Editing by W Simon
and Sofina Mirza-Reid)
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