March 7, 2008 / 11:26 PM / 11 years ago

Rebel camp deaths spark questions in Mexico

By Anahi Rama

MEXICO CITY, March 7 (Reuters) - Reports that a group of Mexicans may be among the victims of a Colombian strike on a rebel camp in Ecuador have ignited speculation in Mexico over whether the country harbors FARC sympathizers.

Some half a dozen Mexicans are believed to have died in last weekend’s attack on a Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia camp that killed a top FARC commander and sparked a diplomatic dispute.

Ecuador said it was working with five Mexican families to confirm the deaths, and Mexican President Felipe Calderon has ordered an investigation into the matter.

One Mexican at the camp, university student Lucia Morett, survived the attack. She told reporters from her hospital bed that she was with several other Mexicans for an academic study and is not a member of the Marxist group.

But the incident has set Mexico asking whether it is still home to a support network for Latin America’s oldest rebel group, six years after authorities closed a FARC office at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, or UNAM.

"There’s been a tradition of Latin American guerrilla groups being present in Mexico since the 1970s," said security analyst Jorge Chabat at Mexico’s CIDE think tank, as Mexican newspapers pored over photos of Morett, in her 20s.

‘NOT THERE AS A TOURIST’

Morett, described by friends as ordinary, sociable young woman, is a student at the UNAM, Mexico’s biggest public university and known for its free-thinking atmosphere.

"It doesn’t seem odd to me that there are FARC sympathizers in Mexico, but what kind of links they have is hard to know," Chabat said.

Some two dozen people died in the attack, which sparked a heated dispute between Ecuador, ally Venezuela and Colombia that was resolved with public handshakes on Friday.

Morett was one of three women rescued by Ecuadorean soldiers from the clearing where the attack took place.

Colombia’s ambassador in Mexico, Luis Camilo Osorio, said it was worrying to think there could be Mexicans in the FARC.

"This student was certainly not there as a tourist," Osorio told Reuters. "You don’t go on holiday to a terrorist camp."

FARC supporters of various nationalities opened an office at the UNAM’s leafy Mexico City campus in the 1990s as a base to inform the world about the rebels’ cause.

Washington and Bogota objected and Mexico shut it down in 2002. Colombia remained suspicious of sympathizer activity however, and its ambassador to Mexico resigned in 2004 complaining it was easier for rebels to get a Mexican visa than businessmen.

UNAM students and Morett’s father have also denied the philosophy student is involved with the FARC and say she was in the Ecuadorean camp as part of a study of guerrilla groups. (Writing by Catherine Bremer; Editing by Xavier Briand)




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