Colombia's attorney general resigns over court refusal to extradite FARC leader

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia’s attorney general said on Wednesday he resigned in protest after a special court charged with prosecuting war crimes denied a U.S. extradition request for a former FARC leader accused of drug trafficking.

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The Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) tribunal prosecutes leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas, who demobilized under a 2016 peace deal, as well as military officials, for crimes committed during a five-decade internal conflict.

Earlier on Wednesday, the JEP ordered the release of Seuxis Paucias Hernandez, better known by his war alias Jesus Santrich, saying evidence provided by prosecutors did not allow it to evaluate whether, or when, he allegedly conspired to move cocaine to the United States.

Because the JEP has jurisdiction over all crimes during the war, Hernandez’s extradition can only go ahead if the alleged crime took place after the accord.

Hernandez was indicted more than a year ago by a U.S. grand jury for conspiracy to export 10 tonnes of cocaine, worth $320 million in street value.

“This challenge to judicial order will not be endorsed by the undersigned. My conscience and my devotion to the rule of law prohibit it,” Attorney General Nelson Humberto Martinez told journalists.

“For that reason I have presented my irrevocable resignation.”

In a statement, President Ivan Duque said he supported a decision by the procurator general’s office to appeal against the JEP’s order to release Hernandez.

Martinez, who has been beset by questions over ties to the Latin America-wide Odebrecht corruption scandal, took office in 2016 and was meant to serve until 2020. He has denied misconduct and recused himself from the Odebrecht investigation.

The U.S. embassy in Bogota said it had no immediate comment.

Separately, the FARC’s political party on Wednesday accused the far right of assassinating its members, but pledged to continue reintegration.

The comment by the party, which kept its famous initials but changed its name to the Revolutionary Alternative Common Force, came a day after the shooting death of Jorge Enrique Corredor, the highest ranking former guerrilla killed since the deal.

“We won’t hesitate to point the finger at right-wing and paramilitary sectors closely linked to state security agencies, who are behind these murders,” FARC senator Pablo Catatumbo told reporters.

At least 139 former FARC rebels have been killed since the peace deal, which demobilized some 13,000 of its members, including more than 6,000 combatants.

The FARC has repeatedly raised concerns that members may be assassinated by right-wing gangs or drug traffickers, in an echo of thousands of targeted killings in the 1980s.

Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta, Julia Symmes Cobb and Helen Murphy; Editing by Phil Berlowitz and Clarence Fernandez