February 29, 2016 / 7:24 PM / 4 years ago

Colombia's defense minister investigated over rebel visit

Colombia's Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas delivers a speech during a news conference in Bogota, Colombia October 26, 2015. REUTERS/John Vizcaino

BOGOTA (Reuters) - The office of Colombia’s investigator general said on Monday it had started an investigation into possible failures on the part of the defense minister and high levels of the military which may have left civilians unprotected during a visit by leftist rebel leaders in the country’s north.

The office said Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas, as well as the heads of the armed forces and army and four unit commanders, may have broken the law by allowing four members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to visit El Conejo in La Guajira province earlier this month.

The four rebels, part of the FARC’s negotiating team at peace talks in Cuba, made the visit to provide details of accords to some of their fighters. They were escorted by armed and uniformed guerrillas.

“It consists in determining if the armed forces or police left the civilian population of El Conejo, in Fonseca municipality in the province of La Guajira, unprotected and helpless in the hands of the FARC,” the investigator general, said in a statement.

The government suspended further visits by FARC leaders after El Conejo, sparking a crisis at the more than three-year-old talks. Sponsor countries Cuba and Norway said last week that the crisis had been overcome.

The investigator general’s office, which looks into misconduct by public officials, said the military leaders may also have violated a law that prohibits the retreat of troops within national territory.

Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by David Gregorio

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