February 5, 2014 / 2:00 AM / in 4 years

UPDATE 2-Colombia probes reported military spying on peace negotiators

* Santos says spying "totally unacceptable"
    * Spy scandals have dogged Colombia before
    * Uribe most vocal critic of peace negotiations

 (Adds two generals suspended from the military)
    By Helen Murphy
    BOGOTA, Feb 4 (Reuters) - Colombian President Juan Manuel
Santos on Tuesday ordered an investigation into the apparent
spying by rogue elements in the military on 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
before Santos' 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.
    He called those behind the spying "dark forces" and "loose
wheels" in the military.
    "It's totally unacceptable," Santos said.
    The peace negotiations, being conducted in Cuba, have
emerged as a campaign issue ahead of elections in May in which
Santos is running for re-election.
    Semana, a respected investigative magazine, said the
cellular phones of negotiators Humberto de la Calle, Sergio
Jaramillo and Alejandro Eder were intercepted, as well as those
of leftist politicians such as former Senator Piedad Cordoba.
    Two military generals - including the head of army
intelligence - have been relieved from duty while the government
investigation is under way, Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon
said late on Tuesday.
    Data from text messages were collected, but telephone calls
were not listened to, the magazine reported. The espionage was
conducted from a Bogota restaurant and adjoining Internet center
set up as a front for the operation.
    The peace talks with the FARC leadership are conducted in
secrecy, which both sides have held to, except for brief
communiqués about their progress.
    
    'SMOKE SCREEN'
    This is the first spy scandal to emerge in Colombia since
the government intelligence agency known as the DAS was shut
down after revelations of wiretapping 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
had called for the spy agency to be shuttered.
    The government and the FARC have fought for five decades -
more than 200,000 have been killed and millions have been
displaced.
    The peace talks, while mostly popular, have some detractors,
such as Uribe and his party's choice as candidate for president
in May, Oscar Ivan Zuluaga. 
    The former president has used his Twitter account to
criticize Santos for offering too much at the negotiating table
and warned that FARC rebels may get off with soft prison
sentences and seats in congress.
    Uribe denied involvement in the spying and called any media
suggestion that he was behind it an "infamy" and a "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,
Sofina Mirza-Reid and Mohammad Zargham)

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
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